Thank You, Readers of Victorian Chick on Its First Anniversary! Preview of Royal Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Wall Street Journal’s Berkovitz on CA Colleges’ Indoctrination and a Fabulous Day in Hollywood Monday at Roosevelt Hotel

 

Victorian Chick on a Smoke Break at Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

I knew today was the first anniversary of Victorian Chick because I looked back a couple weeks ago. A few blogs appear in archives prior to that but those were included (accurately) as earlier blogs on the short-lived Random Review or public FB notes before J set up Victorian Chick. When I look back over this last year, some people, places and experiences brought me as much joy, but nothing brought me more joy than the blog.

I got my first writing gig (book reviews) when Philip Terzian, the literary editor of The Weekly Standard found my writing on the blog enjoyable, even posting it on his public Facebook page, and then telling me that my piece on Chaucer’s Books for Philadelphia Junto (www.junto.blogspot.com)– where my reviews of Bridesmaids and the hilarious adult bedtime storybook, Adam Mansbach’s Go the F*** to Sleep, appeared last spring–reminded him of his own youthful relation to literature. He has noted to me on more than one occasion the uncanny and very obvious way in which my reflections on self and life are embedded in literature and philosophy. As Geoffrey Hartman, one of the best Wordworth scholars ever to live, along with one of the founders of the Yale School of Criticism and the subject of my Yale senior essay for Paul Fry, wrote of himself in his 1988 study, Unremarkable Wordsworth,  “I am a language being.” It has always been thus.

Samuel Jackson did the hugely–and deservedly–successful audio version of Mansbach’s book and no lover of Pulp Fiction could fail to think of the famous Ezekiel scene in the film in reading the various expressions of frustration with this deep childhood resistance to bedtime. Clearly, bedtime is a source of parental angst regardless of class, race, religion, geography or political affiliation for most parents. Hence, Manbach’s meteoric rise to the top of the Amazon bestseller list.

In a similar vein, I have found that pets, food, booze, dating, and sex are unquestionably the most (happily) galvanizing topics both on Facebook and Victorian Chick.  You see a lot of political obsession and mania on FB around politics but what brings people together are those happy topics to which everyone can relate.  I am always grateful when I write something purely literary-critical and people make an effort to slog through it as this is of course a lot more demanding than a blog full of food pictures and Victorian Chick schtick. (N.B: One always has a better shot at bringing in readers for a serious blog if one includes a picture of a mannequin with “headlights” in a slinky dress or a picture of a girl in lingerie, even if it is a random girl from a catalog.)

But the pieces for Junto, I think, revealed quite clearly that while I obviously can write a close reading of a lyric poem or a passage in a philosophical text, in my middle-aged (!) manifestation, my writing is irreducibly self-reflexive. I was to have written a piece on NYC versus LA for the magazine but this will not be happening now and I never really had a satisfactory hook beyond the traditional (and true) stereotypes about New York (by which I mean the Tri-State area, anything within an hour of the city) and Los Angeles (which for me includes Santa Barbara, at least for the purposes of the cultural critique in which LA/SB of course come out the clear losers) familiar to all. Neil Simon’s tag line (which makes Californians pissy even when they are in Northern California, not Simon’s target to begin with) that “in Los Angeles, people want life to be comfortable; in New York, they want it to be interesting” is no news but I hope to provide a more personal, nuanced take on his underlying insight.

So I have found what I hope and think is an original hook, one which draws together strictly autobiographical experience and some foundational/theoretical strands of my ethics/aesthetics dissertation on George Eliot. I am very pleased and cautiously optimistic, particularly since this last Sunday, New York Times published an essay under the “Modern Love” column by a relatively unknown Maine writer. The author is simply identified as a writer living in Maine.

Mom gave the felicitously-titled essay to me which foregrounds the notion of “safety,” and a couple friends on Facebook had read or posted it. Her essay is completely autobiographical, not the least bit literary or textual in its orientation and I hope that the piece I work up for spec for East Coast magazines or papers distinguishes itself as a bit more literary and substantive than a mere story of a less-than-stellar ex-boyfriend from whom she moved on before finding a suitable husband and father for her children.

There is  not much sense in submitting a piece to Southern California publications which says that unless you have a lot of money and can buy in West LA (Brentwood, Palisades, Santa Monica, Bel Air, Westwood, Venice (maybe), West Hollywood or Beverly Hills (though this is not my thing unless it’s by Charleville/Burton Way)), it’s better to live in the Tri-State area. Overall, a person of intellect, general quickness, and mental depth or sophistication will be far happier there–even at a comparable or lesser income level–in terms of meaningful social engagement and stimulation.

And of course if you’re into the arts, it’s obviously a better place to live, though the LA theater scene has burgeoned in the last ten to fifteen years and the current LA Weekly cover is devoted entirely to ensemble theater in LA. Santa Barbara is like film suicide. We have fewer screens in all of SB than on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. There is only one chain of movie theaters. I have often noted that it was one of the first things about Santa Barbara which made me realize this would not end well for me. Architecturally, unless you have money to buy, rentals in Santa Barbara and LA aren’t going to warm the cockles of your heart, not even the “sub-cockle area” as Denis Leary hilariously sings in “Asshole,” the hit song from the show which put him on the map, No Cure for Cancer.

In addition, the piece will serve a further function as I begin to pitch myself to other publications as it will reveal the two strong strands of my present writing: 1) autobiographical/lifestyle essays with a heavily psychological/psychoanalytic bent, and 2) formal, academic literary criticism informed by an investment (though no degree) in philosophy, since my Eliot dissertation was absolutely a crossover project. I still regret not double majoring at Yale, relinquishing my one year of acceleration credits to graduate in 1996, and getting the kind of grounding I had to supply largely on my own in graduate school, with the help of a few key professors.

I’ve been in LA since Friday and had an absolute blast with my new friend from Newton, MA, here just 9 months. We ate at R and D Kitchen on Montana, which I’ve been meaning to try for a year.  Her labradoodle, Keawe, is precious and instead of running around the yard, he prances. Adorable!

Sunday,  I went to the Laemmle 4-Plex with Mom to see a spectacular offering in the new series, Ballet in Cinema (they have Opera in Cinema as well): the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet. She let me post the picture on FB, as privacy-obsessed as she is and people loved it. We took a glam Hollywood shot, both of us in sunglasses and it’s a great picture but I can’t post it here. Afterward, we hit Fromin’s Deli in Santa Monica for lox and onion rolls/bagel(s).

Dad has this theory that bagel only exists in the singular and no matter how many times I consult my really Jewish friends for opinions, he discounts everything I report back to him. By really Jewish, I mean observant, not people who had a bar or bat mitzvah at 13 and haven’t been back to temple since, or only on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah because going is easier than annoying relatives who care about such things. These are the kinds of Jews who barely understood a word of their Torah portions but memorized them convincingly and delivered them adequately due to practice and a decent voice.

I ordered 1/4 of a pint of chopped liver, just my third time eating it ever, because I quite liked the few bites I had at Second Avenue Deli in Murray Hill last month (33rd and Park or so) with the man I often refer to as my FB husband. If I ever marry, I hope I argue less with my actual husband!  I can’t find (big shocker) the program from the movie, and will read up a bit about the Royal Ballet as it was of course too dark to take notes on the phenomenal and moving 25 minute documentary which prefaces the ballet.

Monday I drove to Hollywood–the Roosevelt Hotel–where I hung out the day in early February Mom retired at 72, in one of the most heartbreaking losses of last week’s car robbery: the navy vintage WWII-style floral dress designed by Shiva Rose, the ex-wife of Dylan McDermott I bought at the wonderful Cottage in Pacific Palisades. My friend Wendy Plumb owns this fabulous store with her elegant and beautiful mother and Wendy and Shiva were childhood friends. The extremely hot hostess, clearly vying for runway model currently (the sort who makes you never want to eat again), remembered me and the dress. I am a social creature and the really bottom line on my decade of death is that I had no one to talk to and I became extremely introverted through very little fault of my own.

I will post all those pictures when I go back to Santa Barbara, along with the sort of “memory lane” album of that early February afternoon drive on Sunset from Hollywood to the Palisades, including the Gardner Stages where I took scene study classes on Saturday mornings with Anita Jesse in 1991, as a sort of artistic and emotional release during my analysis in 1991 (four days a week).

My grandmother lived in a one-bedroom rental on Holloway Drive, just down from the old Book Soup and Tower Records, after she moved out of the house on Doheny Drive, just north of Sunset by the Hamburger Hamlet, where the Sunset Strip begins. I used to go there on Saturday nights as a little girl during the years my father was not (for outstanding reasons) talking to her and we’d play Scrabble after she curled my hair with Dep gel and made either tapioca pudding from the box or gigantic chocolate ice cream sundaes, whose ingredients we would get not at the Mayfair market (called, even by West Hollywood residents, the “Gayfair”) but the Ralph’s on Wilshire as I recall. I was born when my parents lived in that cute two-bedroom house in West Hollywood before moving to the Palisades in late 1973 to the house they still live.

Here I am, at the PCH/Chautaqua stoplight, eagerly anticipating a decadent day of food and booze, along with a badly-needed mani/pedi.

On Chautaqua and Sunset stoplight. White line reflection, not new makeup!

The most popular picture from my Hollywood excursion (surprisingly easy to get to the Roosevelt, just a block or so from my mother’s alma mater, Hollywood High (1958) when you travel at 1 PM and return, along Sunset, at 8PM)) was my drink of the day: the Spicy Harlot. It is vodka, grapefruit, limoncello and fresh jalapeño. I tried one with and one without and prefer the one without as limoncello is extremely subtle and even a hint of jalapeño somewhat overpowers it. I also recommend the Sidecar, with which I began lunch.

Spicy Harlot: special at Roosevelt Hotel, The Public.

My buratta small plate was , along with Vivace at Park Hyatt Aviara, the overflow hotel for the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference for which I was my parents’ chauffeur last summer, the best I have had ever in my life. The pesto is extremely mild and the chef uses just a hint of it for flavor.

One of Best Burrata of Life. Public, at the Roosevelt Hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finally left (my friend dropped in for a light bite but had to get back to work a block away) and walked up to Hollywood and La Brea to Diamond Nails and Spa for a mani/pedi. I really want to find a gel color which approximates the color I bought at Aqua Nails in Georgetown but have so far failed to do so.  Here is the mani with a nice view of my Adoration tennis bracelet, about two years old, from Diamond Nexus Labs. I am wearing both a Pandora charm bracelet and the Cathy bangle (in the lower-priced Lorian platinum line, a platinum/sterling alloy unlike the rest of their fine synthetics, all of which are set in white gold) on the other hand. I love Cathy though it only works on a very delicate, small-boned woman and there had been some issues with the safety clasp. It’s such a spectacular company and they replaced–for free–the one which fell off and lost a few stones in the process.

New manicure with Adoration tennis bracelet, Diamond Nexus Labs.

I will break my no (serious) politics rule on Victorian Chick this week to discuss a piece which irritated me in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal about the liberal indoctrination in California universities. I rarely discuss politics on FB though everyone knows I am very pro-choice and pro-gay. But occasionally I will go on about the “liberal bias in higher education,” because while I may be a financially useless individual with no career to speak of (and even now, my writing career is at best in an embryonic stage), I know a lot about academia, at least in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Berkovitz piece irritated me but I do agree that post-9/11 the climate at many universities has changed.  I hate PC (I refuse to delete the perfectly excellent word “retarded” from my vocabulary, no matter how much shit I get about it). But having been to UCLA, Yale and then UCSB, I have very strong feelings on the lumping together of all humanities and social sciences as a way to slam universities whose professors are of course mostly registered Democrats.

People seem to think just because you vote for a Democrat for POTUS every four years or perhaps every two years vote for a liberal City Councilman you really care about politics. This could not be further from the truth and as someone consistently in universities from 1989 (I went to UCLA during my senior year at Westlake for English, Spanish literature, history and political science) to 2001, I think I’ve seen a fair amount. Not to mention the fact that I was embedded in university culture, talking to professors and learning about the job market throughout my graduate career at UCSB.

So I have no patience when high school or even long-ago college graduates who know less than zero about graduate education or graduate teaching (and are too ignorant to distinguish between graduate and professional school) start spouting these Fox News truisms about schools to which they never even applied (and might not even be able to get in).

Being a college graduate doesn’t teach you about the culture of academia. Moreover, if you haven’t been around a university in the last 20 years except on Parents’ Day and have only a financial relation to a major university (you send tuition checks every so often), then I really don’t think you have a right to an opinion on the subject. You may have a right to an opinion as it is after all a free country but you have no right to have anything you say taken seriously by an intelligent, sensate life form. My conversation at the bar of the Public with two bright, charming young flight attendants did touch me, however.

I still think Berkovitz is not a very persuasive writer (who builds straw men, taking a shot at Women’s Studies and the Critical Race Theory program at UCLA Law school, failing to acknowledge that uh, there’s a difference between college and law school, particularly at a school harder to get into for many people than Yale or Harvard) but I do agree there is a problem in our universities today. However, articles like his do nothing to help solve this problem.

Berkovitz reminds me a lot of Dennis Prager, whose social writings I simply cannot bear. Think Oprah Winfrey meets Orthodox Judaism. I don’t think anything he has been writing of late (I see this stuff on FB when all my conservative friends post the articles) about feminism or happiness improves much on one of those widely-circulated FB pages with platitudinous bullshit about positive thinking and personal responsibility. It’s hardly news that playing the victim your entire life fails to produce inner peace and contentment.

As I am always careful to acknowledge on FB, I recognize Prager is a brilliant, learned, deeply devout Jew and frankly, I’d have less of a problem with his sanctimonious drivel about marriage and social life (I recuse myself from comment on anything serious he writes on Israel or Judaism as I am no longer qualified to talk seriously about either subject), if he would just come right out and say, “This is my religious belief system and this is why I believe what I believe.” That I could take.

But for his obviously conservative and largely Christian National Review audience he sort of waters down his social views in a kind of ecumenical way (with generous doses of banal pop psychology) and I find it insufferable.  Regardless of who founded the magazine (Irving Kristol, of course) or who the founder’s son is–Bill Kristol, Neoconservative Jewish editor of The Weekly Standard–almost all my friends who still read the National Review in the post-William F. Buckley Golden Age, are observant Christians.
And here’s a little tip from Victorian Chick: you gotta call Dennis Prager on a radio call-in show to save your marriage, give it up and call a decent attorney because you’re in deep shit. And don’t bother with marriage counseling; I have very strong feelings on that. Marriage counselors are generally the lowest end of the therapeutic food chain (sort of the ambulance chasers/low-asset divorce attorneys of the mental health profession) and if a marriage is really screwed up, couples counseling will never fix the problem unless each spouse undergoes personal psychotherapy/analysis to fix the foundational individual issues which have now become collective problems.

Still, my discussion with the two charming, bright, late-20s flight attendants on a layover was very interesting. So I will say my piece about the article, inflected by what was a disturbing discussion with these two students whose university professors did punish them for their political views, both really moderates or centrists. One graduated high school in Austin, TX a few months before 9/11 (when I passed my Ph.D. orals, yet another indication I am indeed middle-aged now) and many of her friends from school went to Iraq.

I will conclude with what struck me as an amusing sign on Hollywood Blvd. between Orange and La Brea. A strip club on Hollywood Blvd. is hardly noteworthy but the sign made me giggle for precisely the reason it impelled a FB friend my age in Southern Jersey to comment on the picture:

Strip Club on Hollywood between Orange and La Brea.

As my girlfriend said, “I prefer live and exotic to dead and exotic.” No argument there. And it reminded me of one of my father’s most popular comments about a song I love from Grey’s Anatomy, Ingrid Michaelson’s “Keep Breathing,” which played in the finale to Season 3, when Burke leaves Cristina at the altar. As all Dad’s fans on my FB page know, he thought it was the most monotonous, dull, non-song ever written. He also noted the monotony of the lyrics: “All we can do is keep breathing. Well, those are profound lyrics, because, you know if don’t keep breathing, you get a little dull around the edges.” Everyone loves Dad

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