Speaking of Vanity Fair: Looking-Glass

“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.” — William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

See related post: WE ARE THE AUTHORS OF OUR LIVES. Reposted from 2016. Photos from the archives, ©2016, Jen Payne.

We Are the Authors of Our Lives

As many of you know, I’ve been a long-time fan and follower of Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology — since my early 20s, when he was an 8-point type addition at the back of the old New Haven Advocate. Now, his poetic wisdom arrives through the ethernet, always delivering good things to think on and fodder for deep contemplations.

This week’s newsletter included, among other tasty morsels, thoughts on Mercury Retrograde, change, transition, and Zen Buddhism, a poem by William Stafford, a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, and pieces of good and redeeming social news to soothe the weary soul.

And then this, my horoscope for the week:

Cancerian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1819–1875) is famous for Vanity Fair, a satirical panorama of 19th-century British society. The phrase “Vanity Fair” had been previously used, though with different meanings, in the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes, as well as in works by John Bunyan and St. Augustine. Thackeray was lying in bed near sleep one night when the idea flew into his head to use it for his own story. He was so thrilled, he leaped up and ran around his room chanting “Vanity Fair! Vanity Fair!” I’m foreseeing at least one epiphany like this for you in the coming weeks, Cancerian. What area of your life needs a burst of delicious inspiration?

Well, funny you should mention it, Rob.

For the past month, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my new book, Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story. But something has kept me from saying Done! and hitting Send! I wasn’t sure what until…

Vanity Fair! Vanity Fair!

A brilliant piece of inspiration that walked into my consciousness just two days ago and handed me the keystone. Handed me a beautiful, odd-shaped addition that holds the whole story together — thank you Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. Done.

Now one might think that sending a new book off to press in the throes of Mercury Retrograde is risky, but let’s consider it brave, shall we?

Brave because not only is Mercury Retrograde a dicey time for all things technology and communication, but also brave because Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story is a sweet piece of creative non-fiction, a true story deserving to be told by this writer who finally decided to claim it as her own.

Watch for more about Water Under the Bridge, due out this spring!


I overcame myself, the sufferer; I carried my own ashes to the mountains;
I invented a brighter flame for myself. — Friedrich Nietzsche


 

YOUR SUPPORT IS APPRECIATED

Copies of my new book Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story can be pre-ordered now, click here. Books are expected to ship by the end of March 2020. (Sales processed through Words by Jen of Branford, CT)

 

 

Post ©2020, Jen Payne. IMAGE: Writing, Zhang Xiaogang. Blog title is a nod to Brené Brown’s “Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted,” from Rising Strong. Horoscope text from Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology. Book cover art by Sarah Zar.

Storytelling and a Man Named Ivan

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept that story is in our DNA. We are “wired for story” says social scientist Brené Brown. And, if current research is correct, we are quite literally “a part of all that I have met” as Alfred Tennyson wrote — past traumas, past loves, past experiences, co-mingling to make our stories all the more rich and interesting.

Our stories are what connect us, what make us see the common thread that unites us, despite all of the forces seeking to divide and conquer. Ultimately, it is the act of storytelling that keeps us alive — literally and figuratively — now, and even after we have passed.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago this when I read the obituary for a local man named Ivan MacDonald. I didn’t know Ivan very well — we worked together on a few small projects over the years — but he was a memorable character, for sure, with a fabulous story to tell!

The last time I saw Ivan was in 2014. He hired me to write that very obituary. It appeared in local papers, edited to fit, but I thought I would share it here in its entirety. To tell his story…

Ivan was 88 when he passed away on September 19, 2017.

IVAN MacDONALD

At an early age he was determined on a career in the theater. Detroit-born and educated, Ivan MacDonald began training with members of the famous Jessie Bonstelle Playhouse in Detroit.

He made his professional debut in 1946 in Maine at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Noel Cowards’s Tonight at 8:30 with Lilian Harvey; and in the world premiere of Michael Myerberg’s Production Balloon by Padraic Colum featuring McKay Morris.

The Detroit Dramatic Guild cast him in the juvenile lead in Papa is All, and a year later in The Play’s the Thing with Ian Keith and Joseph Macaulay, produced by Roger L. Stevens who later became one of New York’s prominent Broadway producers.

After his education was behind him, young MacDonald headed for New York to continue his theater studies, and landed a role on Broadway in Seeds in the Wind with Tonio Selwart and Sidney Lumet. Along the eastern seaboard, he made many summer theater appearances. He toured as Henry Morgan’s son in Father of the Bride, and with John Loder in O’ Mistress Mine. He repeated the same role at the Berkshire Playhouse, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, featured in O’ Mistress Mine opposite Peggy Conklin. The Myrtle Beach Playhouse, S.C., featured Ivan in a mystery thriller as a psychopathic killer in Twilight Walk by A.B. Shiffrin.

He appeared on all major television and radio networks. MacDonald was one of the pioneers of early television. For NBC, in the first live show on location (Delancey and Orchard Street, Manhattan), City at Midnight, he played a Jewish boy who was burned alive in a garbage can! For Robert Montgomery Presents, he played Omg Chi, a Chinese scheming extortionist in The Letter with Madeleine Carroll; on NBC, a romantic fantasy in the Chinese manner The Stolen Prince, portraying Long Fo, son of the royal cook; on the DuMont Network, a running part on Captain Video playing a Chinese communist; also Colgate Comedy Theater, The Florist Shop opposite Ruth Gilbert.

Uncle Sam took him for two years in 1950. The first year as an Entertainment Specialist for the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Custer, Michigan; the second year, 11 months in Korea. On his return to New York in 1952, NBC cast him in Hall of Fame opposite Sarah Churchill (Winston’s daughter) in Fanny Stevenson. On CBS, Leave It to Larry with Eddie Albert; on ABC’s Boris Karloff Show opposite Karloff in Mr. I. Murderer by Arch Obler. On NBC Radio, he was George Bigelow on The Aldrich Family and was on Pepper Young’s Family and CBS’s Rosemary.

As he matured, casting became a problem. Ivan left New York and moved to Connecticut where he worked in a family business, MacDonald’s Motel in Branford, Connecticut..

Several years later, he developed an idea for an audio-visual film lecture on art and great gardens of the world. He performed live in a 60-minute lecture series, becoming a national speaker for major museums and colleges through the U.S., as well as for the Chautauqua Institution and the Caramoor Center for the Arts.

He found it a pleasure working with great talent and in three careers. Mr. MacDonald is the end of his family line.

©2017, Jen Payne. Detail of Spiral, Alexander Calder.

Ask And Ye Shall Receive…but what if there are strings attached?

I’ve been working on “manifesting” for a while now. The idea that if you put something out there—offer up a need or request, ask for assistance—you will manifest, or make real, that very thing.

Is this praying? Perhaps.

But even that practiced form of manifesting feels abstract for a left-brain-leaning, right-brain person such as me. I’m on a computer most of the day—when I need something or want something to happen, I just push a button.

But there are no buttons for some of the things we hope for: safe travels, good health, peace of mind, courage.

And there are no buttons for some of the things to which we aspire.

And so, I’ve been working on manifesting. Last May, I manifested up some hot pink spray paint, but that’s kind of like David Copperfield pulling a coin from behind his ear. What if I want to make the Statue of Liberty disappear?

So I keep practicing.

Last Fall, I manifested a parking space.
Last week, I asked for something bigger.

Last week I asked for something bigger and I got it!

But here’s my dilemma. It has strings attached. Big, thick, tangled ethical strings.

I am reminded of that parable about the man trapped on a roof during a flood. While he’s praying to God, there are several attempts to rescue him but he refuses. He dies, and when he gets to heaven, he asks God “Why didn’t you save me?” And God says, “What are you talking about, I sent you a rowboat and a helicopter?”

I don’t want to be the one second-guessing divine intervention here. But if I ask, and the rowboat that arrives is made from indigenous rainforest trees and the helicopter was built by child laborers…

Yup. We’re talking those kind of strings. I manifested something I need, but the consequence of accepting it means compromising things I believe.

My head is struggling with this. My heart is not.

So as the left-brain debates and the right-brain digs in, “we” are reminded of a lovely manifesto I read several years ago by professor and author Brené Brown:

Pray that I make the most authentic decision.

• • •

Authenticity text and art © Brené Brown. You can download your own Authenticity manifesto and other inspiring things at Bréne’s website.

Photo ©2011, Jen Payne, Rockport, Mass.