Thursday, May 22, 2003


(I'm not at all sure about the wisdom of posting what follows here. After all, both the piece and the thing it parodies are almost five years (or 1000 scandal-cycles) old. But what the hell, I happened upon it while searching through my monitor-side box of important papers in vain search of any papers that might be justly deemed "important," and I have to admit, it's not bad. I have an especially fond memory of writing one particular paragraph in a fever of giddy creativity that almost never comes my way these days and that left me feeling as if my cranium was indeed in danger of melting. Anyway, here it is. Hope you like it. And if you do, heck, maybe I'll finish it one of these days.)

The following is excerpted from Jeannie Mullet's forthcoming memoir, Asleep on the Front Lawn of the World, to be published by Delaware School of Psychiatry Press in early 1999. Author's Note: The dialogue and all of the situations in this book have been reconstructed from memory to the best of my ability and under strict professional supervision. Since I was raised from my earliest days to be a vigilant, unimplicatable observer, I believe that if film footage, tape, or infra-red video existed documenting my life, or if such documentation hadn't all been destroyed in a series of unconnected and surely accidental fires over the last twenty-five years, it would bear a stunning similarity to what's reported here.

In the spring of my eighteenth year, I wrote a magazine article which proved to change my life forever. It appeared in the Veronica Lake Daily Newspaper on May 16, 1973. It was entitled "An 18-Year-Old Prodigy Considers Life, Society, Time, and Her Brobdignagian Struggle With Significance," and, although it was displaced by last-minute editorial jostling from the cover story of their Sunday supplement to the "Letters to the Editor" section, cut from 26,000 words to 150, and retitled "Local Girl Writes," it's fair to say that it was the most important article I've ever had published. In it I described coming of age in a time of social foment, prodigiously limned the details of the battle those of my generation were then waging with the encroaching forces of sociological malaise, and added a brief and pungent aside about my hometown's zoning laws, which was the only part that got printed. Even in that minuscule fragment, my discontent and world-weariness came shining out with crystalline clarity, not to mention the same finely-tuned wit and allegorical sensibility that inspired my creative writing professor at Rick's Community College to rave, "Shows some promise."

Yet this was only part of my story. I was born into the household of about two fiercely determined and ambitious parents, who had instilled in me from the first the desire to achieve great things, or at least to acquire great things and drive them across state lines if necessary. Before I had even learned to write, I was dictating poems, one-act plays, affidavits. My mother wrote down what I said and taught me how to make it better, strengthening my grammatical and expository skills using a variety of simple but extraordinarily effective methods which also helped me develop excellent penmanship in spite of the broken bones in my hands. Soon enough she gave me a typewriter, the act of giving alone demonstrating the stealth and breathtaking force of words as I caught it in my solar plexus. By 14, I had already been published in Young Girl magazine ("More Pictures of Davy, Please," reprinted in an annotated version in my forthcoming collection, Ruminations on God, Man, and Puppies), which led directly to a series of more ambitious pieces for the likes of The New Jerseyite, See and The National American, all of which were unanimously judged to be well ahead of their time (in fact, each of the editors of those periodicals sagely realized that my articles "[did] not fit the needs of [those] magazine[s] at [that] time" - and as of this writing, they remain so advanced), finally culminating in my Daily Newspaper opus. My mother, who had long encouraged me to "stay in [my] room and write, or whatever it is [I] do," to the point of keeping me padlocked inside for days on end to maintain and hone my compositional focus, was thrilled at my sudden success, though she was well enough aware of the dangers of unfettered praise on the creative ego to withhold her enthusiasm beyond a faux-dismissive wave of her hand, as if to say, Go. Don't rest on your laurels. Take it further. Get out of my kitchen. Actually, she vocalized that last part, but the implications (Create your own heat) were clear.

Predictably, the article caused quite a stir, and soon, letters were arriving on a daily basis in my mailbox. A well-known late-night talk-show sidekick proclaimed that I "may already have won" (through sheer talent and persistence, no doubt) millions of dollars, and enclosed the names of dozens of magazines that may be interested in my work, and encouraged me to choose as many as six of them, though he insisted that I was under no obligation to any of them. Invitations to join exclusive societies (a record and tape appreciation guild based in Columbia, a club for diners [those supping on the piquancies of our culture, unquestionably, though the exhortation was amusingly coy on that score]) were myriad, but it was one letter, secreted near the bottom of a stack of two I had received shortly after the article's publication, that rendered all others unimportant, a single typewritten page that has come to mean more to me than the dozens, nay hundreds, of fan letters, book offers, and cease-and-desist orders I have received in the years since. It was a personal letter from one of the greatest literary minds of our time, I.C. Seligman himself.

In truth, though I long considered him one of my literary heroes, I was perhaps the only 18-year-old in the country who hadn't read his classic paeans to youthful despair, The Receiver in the Wheat, Freda and Zippy, or Seymunki - A Book With That Title. In fact, I never read books at all because they give me sharp, throbbing headaches and then the bad people come out. But I knew well of him - his wild, prodigious talent so like my own, the legendary short stories he wrote at some point in the past for periodicals whose names escape me now, the fact that he lived in a house in some state with an "r" in it with his children if he had any. I had never in my wildest imaginings thought that such a genius would be interested in what I had to say, though I had put his name and address on the mailing list to receive my bi-weekly newsletter, Ecce Jeannie, just in case. There was no greater approbation for a young 18-year-old my age than to receive acknowledgement of my fresh, mercurial brilliance and insight from a man who probably wrote well like him.

I spent hours, days, hours poring over every nuance of his deceptively simple missive to me, studded as it was with obscured memoranda from the hidden corridors of his soul so subtle that only someone as perceptive as myself (preferably me) could pick them up. The way, for example, that my name in his salutation appeared in a different typeface and was slightly off-kilter from the rest of the letter - we hadn't even met and already he's symbolically separating me from the pack! (And the impish wit for which he was so renowned came through in his playful misspelling of my name, a touch so obviously influenced by Joyce, whoever she is.) Beyond that, Seligman opened up to me in ways I suspected one could only do in the company of strangers with whom they'd already formed a life-long bond. "Thank you for your kind letter," it began (demonstrating not only a rare and wonderful gratitude, but also a unique view of literature; in referring to the 38-page, single-spaced article I had sent him as a "letter," he taught me that all works of art, no matter how finely wrought, are as personal and as individual as correspondence). "It is always a pleasure to hear from my readers." (Note the subtle tinge of erotic longing.) "I never knew I had so many fans in Veronica Lake." (Here, again, he deliberately misaligned the proper noun, tacitly acknowledging the off-the-beaten-path nature of my hometown and my deep-seated feelings of alienation in it. What sensitivity lies within that skewed pica font!) "Your comments regarding my work are greatly appreciated (spoken like a true gourmand at the smorgasbord of the heart, looking for that extra serving of the potato salad of the peregrine spirit), as are any questions you may have asked (ever-questing, insatiably inquisitive, yes, I.C., yes, I see!). Unfortunately (are we not all mere slaves to fickle Kismet?, I.C. seems to be saying), due to the overwhelming volume of mail I receive ("overwhelming volume" - I was convulsed for hours at the Rabelaisian wit of that), I am unable (a particularly tricky nut to crack here - it took me six weeks of uninterrupted cognition to decipher the buried anagram here as "Mabel, u an' I," a delightfully bold invitation to a menage a trois. Sadly, I was never to meet this Mabel, but no doubt she was a saucy harpy/muse whose skin-tight vinyl jodhpurs and skillful proficiency with ostrich-skin belt and corn-cob holders would have given us both many hours of fulsome carnal diversion and provided fodder for many of the world-weary female protagonists in novels alas unwritten) to draft a personal reply at this time (and such a smooth segue from the interpersonal to the geopolitical! That accursed war!). Again, I thank you for taking the time to write and I send you my very best wishes (I don't think you need be a Freudian to divine what he was alluding to here). Sincerely (meaning, I think, that he was being sincere), I.C. Seligman (signed in a beautifully-rendered imitation of a rubber stamp imprint, yet another sly comment on the forced permanency of identity. It, too, was slightly askew, but I'll forestall any further analysis of that as my skull has begun to overheat again)."

In a word, I was flabbergasted. In two words, I was quite flabbergasted. In six words, I (two paragraphs omitted for reasons of space) That such a man would take such a consuming interest in a young woman whom he had yet to meet, much less broach matters both physical and philosophical in such a familiar (if oblique) manner was a source of no small amazement to me (though not unprecedented - Ernie Kovacs used to send me some rather obscene psychic messages through my television when I was a young girl until I had that problem taken care of). I don't know what it was that so enthralled me - perhaps it was the voice of experience that rang out, wizened but booming and resonant, from his letter (I was hearing some sort of voice, at any rate). Perhaps it was my desire for a mentor, someone to look up to in place of the father I never had (or, more precisely, to avoid the confusion of choosing among the four men who had been named in separate lawsuits as my father). In any event, I was compelled to respond. I spent several days carefully composing my reply, but musical notation seemed somehow insufficient, so I wrote him a letter instead.

I held nothing back. I told I.C. Seligman of my life here in this small New England town that was later discovered to be a dead Hollywood starlet (which would explain the exorbitant property values). I live a simpler life than most people my age, I tell him. I ride my bike three miles every day and hope to eventually leave the house with it. I don't enjoy writing much. I like finger painting, as it's the only body part I can reproduce convincingly, and relax by building dollhouses, hiking the utilities without prior notification, and throwing Barbie and Skipper out on their skinny polyethylene backsides. I don't have many friends. I thanked him profusely for his warmth, honesty and wisdom, and swore to carry what he told me to the grave, my own if need be. I completed my response and called the UPS man to come and haul it away, not knowing, having laid myself out so vulnerably, if the great man would ever respond in kind.

I need not have worried. Not two weeks later, but five, another letter arrived from Seligman. But for the fact that my name was even further off-kilter on the page and spelled with an ampersand this time, it was identical in every way to the first. The message was clear: the greatest truths are the simple ones and bear repeating; you should drop everything and come to Maizelike, New Hampshire to be with me immediately. I needed no further entreaty. I packed an overnight bag, jimmied the lock on my bedroom door, and set out on a journey of discovery that would ultimately prove tragic, revelatory, and very, very marketable.

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