June's Literary Blog
 

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Crazy Eights?


I was awakened from a sound sleep for a few mornings last month by the yapping of a small dog and the piercing shouts of his owner to "Be Quiet!", which, of course also woke up FrankieBernard, who bounded down the stairs to bay at the front door. One morning, quite annoyed and angry, I quickly dressed and stormed out the door with FrankieB straining on his leash to accost the disturbers of my peace. "Hey!" I yelled. "Can't you keep your dog quiet?!?! You've been waking me up every morning with his shrill yapping and your shouting!"

The man turned toward me with a blank, confused look on his face. At first, he said nothing, and stared at me while my dog and his began to play. Then he began an endless tirade about his life, his dog, and his last "unfriendly" neighborhood where, he said, he was unfairly maligned and misunderstood. It was too much for me to absorb so early at 7:00 in the morning, but, being polite, I listened while FrankieB and Ringo romped. Finally, after twenty minutes, I politely excused myself and dragged FrankieB back to our front door. The man and his dog followed, droning on and on about everything and nothing.

It dawned on me that there was something strange, something "not quite right" about this young man and his barking canine. Suddenly frightened, I rushed FrankieB and myself inside the house and locked the door behind us—leaving the man and his dog still standing on my sidewalk. I did not hear the yapping dog or his owner after that.

A week or so later, a concerned neighbor told me the "gentleman" was thought to be schizophrenic, and that he and his mother had since moved away.

When, how do you know, if you're a trusting and friendly soul like me, that someone just "isn't quite right"? Oh, okay, yes, I've met one or two, maybe three or more people in my time that I was—still am—convinced was/are a little "off", wacky, crazy—borderline personalities; neurotics; paranoid, controlling psychotics; true ego-maniacs. But never one as strange as the person I met that morning while walking his dog. Needless to say, it shook the living beetle juice out of me. Egad! And I thought this was a truly safe neighborhood. Now, I am not so sure. I have, of late, become very, very cautious when meeting anybody new.  

In the novel Goodbye Goldilocks1 by Judith Arthy—an Australian actress2 who was well-known in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s on the British stage and in many BBC television mystery dramas and serials—the main character, Helen Charters, is a fifteen year-old Australian school girl who is obsessed with a martyred saint and, because of her, with becoming a Roman Catholic nun. At first, the reader is enticed, endeared by her zealousness, taken in and captured by her seemingly "winning" personality. We empathize with the total absence of her estranged father, who lives with his mistress in London. When her mother, Lillian, decides that Helen's avid vocation is blatantly against her own wishes and plans for her daughter—she violently hates the nuns almost as much as he hates her husband—she asks Richard Charter to take Helen to live with him. Helen is wrenched out of her beloved school, away from her beloved nuns, and is whisked away by him—first to Singapore, then to London, where she encounters Eleanor, Richard's mistress. Helen is withdrawn, aloof, and turns inwardly into herself—only drawn out by the gift of a white dress and a white kitten and thoughts of living for the summer on the isle of Ibiza.

Is she or is she not, as we are lead to believe in the beginning of the story, normal? Going through the typical stages of mid-to late stages of being a teen-ager? Or is she, like the young man I met, strange, different, a little bit more than "off"? Her father thinks she is merely "going through a phase of adjustment"—of him back in her life, and of her new surroundings. His mistress, jealous of the young intruder into what was once a mutually comforting and convenient "twosome", thinks Helen is "different"; something is "not quite right", if not downright wrong, about the girl. And then there is the older, male house-guest who "fancies" Helen, who, in turn, is strongly drawn by and to the young painter who starts to paint her portrait. And, thus, we are sucked into the quagmire of this intriguingly riveting psychological novel.

My newly-acquired first edition of Goodbye Goldilocks, is, I have since discovered, a rather rare publication. In fact, there is no "image" available to add to the graphical display of my Current Picks. So, if you wish to buy a copy, please click one of the text links. I found my copy in a box of "cast-offs" given to me by a dear neighbor who was re-organizing her own library. Just about everyone on my block, by the way, are avid readers and have their own substantial collections of books; even the children. Sorting through the twenty or so discards, I was instantly intrigued by the cover of this slim, 143-page volume and began to immediately read it. I was so captivated by the story and the flowing, lyrically descriptive writing, that I read it in one spine-tingling Wednesday evening—after, of course, that day's final match strokes of the French Open had been played.

I am surprised that Arthy's book, one of four, including a children's book, was not well-received or prominently reviewed when it was first released in 1984. One misguided commenter from Publisher's Weekly—the only review that I can find so far—said that the premise was good, but that it "missed the mark". Au contraire, mon ami! Goodbye Goldilocks is true to form. The title reflects its themes—Helen had long, flowing flaxen locks, just like the fairy tale character, and she views her father as "Poppa Bear”. Certain things to her are either too big, too small, or just right. Unlike, albeit, our strangely inwardly-drawn main protagonist, who searches in the forests of her own life and subconscious for sustenance and refuge; and, in many respects, deliverance from the misunderstandings of others, as well as herself. While it may not have been as well received as it should have been in the late 1980s, it is, given the turmoil in the Philadelphia Diocese over wayward clergy and the current scrutiny of the relevance and impact of the Roman Catholic Church on our personal lives, of vital importance today.

What caused Helen to be who she became? Was she that way before entering the convent school with its strict and narrow-minded nuns or was she molded into it while there?

This is a haunting and amusingly poignant novel; one that I suggest you all read. If nothing else, to be stunned by its surprise denouement ending. It is surely one that I will read again. If nothing else, to remind me that I should leave yapping dogs and their noisy owners alone.
~~~~~~
1 © 1984 by Judith Arthy. First Edition, November 8, 1984. Angus & Robertson Publishers (UK), Ltd, London, England.
2 Here is a link to her Wikipedia listing: Judith Arthy. An Internet search uncovers a treasure-trove of clips and videos of some of her television shows.

 
3:33 pm edt          Comments

Monday, June 4, 2012

40-30

The French command, tenez, means "take, receive!" from the imperfect verb, tenir, to receive. Tenezis the eponym, if you will, of the popular game of tennis, which was first developed in France as indoor court tennis from the mid-1200s form of handball, jeu de paume, or "royal". Teniz! was called  by the server of each point—“be ready, here it comes!” 
 

Court tennis, played on a dirt or clay surface, was the first "sport of kings", long before horse-racing, because French and English kings had courts in their castles. The Louvre, centuries before it became a museum, had two of them. After the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Charles Duke of Orléans played court tennis while imprisoned by the English, and Henry VII was playing court tennis at/on Hampton Court when he was informed of the beheading of Anne Boleyn. In the 1870s, the game was adapted by an English cavalry officer to be played on outdoor grass courts and renamed "lawn tennis"—the oldest venue being what is now the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, where the first tournament was held in 1877.

I tell you all this because for the last nine days, including today, I've been watching—almost 24x7—the French Open Tennis Championships at Roland Garros, in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France. Except for two daily FrankieB walks between rain showers and thunderstorms, I've been doing nothing else—as evidenced by a lack of Literary Blog postings this week—except eat and breathe tennis. And, of course, reading and now writing about it.

For my birthday two years ago—almost to the date—my tennis buddy game me her first edition copy of
Arthur Ashe On Tennis: Strokes, Strategy, Traditions, Players, Psychology, and Wisdom 1. Accompanied by an appropriate "doggy" card and a beautiful inscription that included a hand-written copy of Ashe's (and Betty's) favorite poem, "The Threads in My Hand" by Howard Thurman, it has sat on the top non-fiction shelf of my upstairs library for these past 24 months, waiting for the most opportune time to be read. I brought it down this week and have been cherishing it while watching the first four rounds of Roland Garros on the Tennis Channel, NBC, and ESPN2. Thank you for cable! As I write this post, I am sitting on my couch in front of my television watching Maria Sharapova trying to defeat Zacopova to secure a place in the woman's round of sixteen. Talk about being in one's "glory".

For those of you who don't know or don't remember as well as I do, Arthur Ashe was one of the greatest tennis players in the Open era, playing both amateur and professional tennis from the late 1950s through the early 1980s, winning three Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon in 1975. He was twice ranked the number-one player, and served as captain of the United States team for the international Davis Cup competition. He played in the era of such peer greats as John McEnroe, Stefi Graf, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Conners, Ilie Natasse, Billy Jean King, and Boris Becker, and saw the start of the sterling careers of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. He ignited the love of the game in the many children he taught and coached, and vicariously inspired budding players, like myself, who avidly watched his matches on televison. I won't mention that he accomplished all of this in spite of the fact that he had to face the ignorance of racism and prejudice—Arthur Ashe was the first African American male to break into the upper elite white echelon ranks of professional tennis.

To his credit, he did it with profound panache, talent, style, grace, and intelligence—all of which are profusely evident in this book. Arthur Ashe On Tennis, written in collaboration with Alexander McNab, a former editor of Tennis Magazine, is a compilation of articles and essays—Ashe’s thoughts and comments about all facets of the modern game of tennis, from the opening serve to the last, final winning tournament point. In this small 143-page volume, he holds forth on how to play the game well, competitively, and with grace and intelligence, just as he did for twenty-five or so years before his untimely demise at 43 from AIDS contracted from a tainted blood-transfusion. Ashe in his flowing, casual writing style intelligently chats about the classic game of tennis, one in which there are no frills—just simple strokes and a one-handed backhand, all of which he clearly instructs the reader how to execute with finesse. He also gives a bit of history (quoted above), delves into the styles and foibles of players of his day, offers tips and suggestions for improving one's game, and rounds it off with his personal wisdom and love of the game.

I am not going to rant on about how the game of tennis has unfortunately changed since Ashe's era, with the now bullish, beat 'em, bashing, power-is-all-that-matters playing style that is prevalent today, especially in woman's tennis. What I will say is that many of today's players, both professionals and amateurs alike, need to read this book. It is the epitome of what tennis—be it court, lawn, clay, or hardcourt—was originally intended to be played: with elegance, albeit competitive, gentility, good taste, skill, and exquisite graceful, repectful refinement. All of which are evident in both Ashe's writings and all of which governed his playing style.

Arthur Ashe is my tennis buddy's most favorite player of all time. I asked her why she liked him so much and she said, "He was a gentleman, even when losing. He was an intelligent man, both in his writing and in his playing. And I like his quiet demeanor. He was one in a billion." Ashe, of his own uniqueness, said, "...if you can combine that with an engaging personality, a sense of humor, and perceptible intelligence, you can go a long way."

And he did.
~~~~~~
1 ©1995 by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe (Arthur's wife). Some of the content appeared in Tennis Magazine while Ashe was an instructional editor. The completed manuscript was published just before his death in 1993 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY.
 

 
5:29 pm edt          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:


Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Forty-Thirty 
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast

Bethlehem

Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood

 

 

Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her fifth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
and 
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA
.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,