Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Review - The Stalin Epigram

*R E V I E W*

The Stalin Epigram
by Robert Littell


Based on a true story, The Stalin Epigram tells the story of famed Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, as his career declines (suffocates is a more accurate term) under Stalin's repressive regime.

Set in mid 1930's Moscow, the literati of the time face increasing censorship by a dictator ruled Russia. Under constant threat of arrest for the suspicion of creating or possessing anti-Stalin/anti-Communism/anti-Russia poems, most writers are forced to write poetic odes to the regime or to stop writing all together.

Mandelstam had enough.  Upon witnessing the starvation and man-made famine occurring in the Crimea,  he is convinced something must be done. This is not the Russia he loves. In a moment of "sane insanity" he decides the truth must be told; that a poem can change the world, and the "right poem can bring down a dictator." In a scathing 16 line epigram, he attacks and belittles Stalin, reducing him to a soulless murderer and "peasant-slayer" "whose every killing is a treat". Reading his work first to his wife and mistress, then to friends and poets Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova, Mandelstam has willingly opened Pandora's box. All who love him beg him to destroy and forget the poem.  He refuses. The only written copy in existence was given to his mistress, who was to memorize the poem and burn the pages . Out of fear and opportunism, she provides the written evidence to the secret police, who arrest Mandelstam in the middle of the night.

Through barbaric interrogation methods, Mandelstam is found guilty of crimes against Russia. With the intervention of Pasternak, his life is spared and he is exiled to a remote part of Russia, with his wife deciding to follow.

The book continues, with the journey into exile, the struggle to survive, and the fate of Mandelstam and his fellow poets.

Littell constructed his story in a unique way, with each chapter narrated by Mandelstam himself, his wife, Pasternak or Ahkmatova, and a good natured fictional character.

While classified as a novel, the people and events are real. The prisons and interrogation methods are real. Most importantly, the collectivization of farms and man-made famine and inevitable death is real.

At times, the story is difficult to read as you picture the systematic destruction of people by their own country. Some levity exists with the fictional weight lifting character, as well as the literary jabs made between the three poets. The conclusion sews everything together, but doesn't insult the reader with a fairy tale ending.

I enjoyed the book and the unique storytelling technique. Certainly a page turner, but a sad one at that.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review - Norma Jean

REVIEW (ok it's long..but just read it. Geesh!)
Norma Jean
by Fred Lawrence Guiles

"Norma Jean" by Fred Lawrence Guiles is a comprehensive biography - a full-bodied account mapping the evolution from Norma Jean(e)* to the star we know as Marilyn Monroe. *the "e" was used off and on throughout Norma's early life.

Marilyn already had 3 surnames before she adopted the one that made her famous. Born Norma Jean Mortensen, then baptized Norma Jean Baker, and finally Norma Jean Dougherty, through her first marriage to James. I think it's important to note that throughout Marilyn's life, her greatest wish was to belong to and to have her own family. Her young life began without a permanent name or family, and she died under a pseudonym created for the make believe showcase of Hollywood.

Norma Jean did not live a carefree childhood. Both her Grandmother and Mother were institutionalized for psychiatric reasons, and unable to care for her throughout much of her young life. Marilyn bounced from loving caretakers to friends of neighbors, also spending a short time in an orphanage.

Through modeling and associated contacts, Norma Jean signed a six-month option with Fox Studios. Her name was changed from Norma Jean to Marilyn Monroe - a combination of the casting director’s favorite Broadway musical actress, and the maiden name of Norma’s grandmother.

Marilyn Monroe was born. Along with a tumultuous relationship with Fox Studios that would last a lifetime.

Much of the story we already know, if not fully, than at least in part. Her failed marriages to both Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. Her not-so-secret affairs with the Kennedy’s. Her difficulty on set, and her eventual drug abuse and psychiatric issues.

The biography, however, goes beyond the attention grabbing Page 6 headlines. Guiles has a wonderful ability to show both the one-dimensional version of Marilyn’s “outrageous” behavior, but never discounts her multi-dimensional self: the truly loving accounts with friends, co-workers, and longtime associates. The enigma of Marilyn was that she never seemed to lose a friend, but was guilty of disposing of some longtime associates. She wouldn’t appear for work days on end - interrupting production and costing the studio millions - but her directors, co-stars, crew and friends alwaysfelt for her, despite their annoyance. She was a sensitive and intelligent woman, but will forever be known as the ultimate blond who is a wide-eyed moron counting on her looks to get by.

The book demands respect for Marilyn. She was not a pampered, drug addled Hollywood brat. She was fighting, always fighting, to win respect from an industry who refused to respect her. Fighting to be cast in serious roles. Fighting the antiquated contract she signed with Fox years earlier as a young starlet, which paid her significantly less than her costars, even when she was the star of the picture.

Norma Jean picked herself up from a childhood that would most certainly have destroyed many others, and she made herself into a whole new being. Is it a concentrated delusion, refusing to accept the life you’ve been dealt.? Was her life Odysseus-esque, seeking a way home and finally pretending to be someone else? Or was it Hollywood egotism that kept the machine moving the short time that it did?

Probably all of the above.

Reading the biography, I find myself relating deeply to the person that is within the image of who we call Marilyn. I feel for her through the pages, even when you want to ring her neck. I relate to what she feels, how she finds herself a lost woman, how she clings to people, how she questions herself, and her fear of loneliness.

I am also in awe of her tremendous strength and fight. She was no one’s fool. And only a fool would underestimate her. Her strength is immeasurable.

If a biography can elicit such emotion from me, I can’t help but recommend the book wholeheartedly.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Wonder Woman - Or How To Be A Farmer

When I was a young lass, I thought – no, I KNEW – I was going to grow up to be Wonder Woman.  I had the belt and everything.  In truth, it really wasn’t the Wonder Woman belt, it was a Holly Hobby belt that I pretended was Wonder Woman’s.  It gave me special powers as I held my arms out and twirled.  And let me tell you.  I was one damn good twirler.

My brother was the Incredible Hulk.  He even had these green floaties that came with an air pump.  They gave you tremendous green floaty muscles.  I was beyond jealous.  I had a freakin’ Holly Hobby belt and he had genuine green muscles.  Life was already unfair.

Fast forward a few years and it dawned on me that I was probably not going to be Wonder Woman.  I wasn’t a brunette.  And I didn’t have an invisible jet.  I stretched my brain, I searched within, I discovered what my true calling actually was:  to be an ER Clerk, like my Mom. 

I think I was about 8 when my Mom started working in the ER.  My life would never be the same again. 

See, my parents had an interesting way of raising my older brother and I.  It sorta went along the lines of this:

  • Tell any story in front of your kids, no matter how inappropriate
  • Take immense pleasure by telling your kids that “No, this isn’t a horror movie…”, and watch them go green
  • Conspire, Plan, and Execute any way in which to turn off the lights, put shaving cream on your face, and hold a flashlight under your chin.  All while pretending you’re a zombie, out to eat your children’s faces

What can I say?  It was the early 80’s.

In line with this way of rearing their young, my mother would tell “Stories from the ER”.  My brother and I were too young to stay home alone (although now that I think of it, that’s where they drew the line?), and my Mom worked the 3-11:00pm shift.   So every other night or so, we would pile into our orange and white striped van, without the seat belts, and drive the 15 minutes to the hospital.  My brother and I were usually sacked out until my mother got in to the car.  Then the stories began. 

Stories of severed fingers, crazed maniacs getting strapped to gurneys, paper cuts that Princess found too painful to endure for one more second!  Car crashes, ambulance calls, heart attacks.  And the coup de grace, the be all end all, the question I had yearned to ask since watching the movie “Carrie” and my Dad told me it was over when it wasn’t (see:  hand shooting out from grave): “Did anyone die tonight, Ma”?

Just to make things clear, if anyone did die, I felt bad.  I really did.

Hearing these stories, I was convinced that Wonder Woman had not only been the wrong choice for me, but an ER Clerk wielded much more power.  Who needed a lasso of truth when you could slap a name bracelet on someone and tell them to take a seat?  Who needed to twirl when you had a wheelchair ready to go?  Who needed red boots when you could…well, I still wanted the red boots, I must admit.

It seemed to me to be the most exciting job known to man.  I had developed a pretty thick skin at this point for dealing with the ick factor.  In fact, the more ick the better!  I had found my career, and I even announced it to my Elementary School class when Career Day arrived and one would proudly state what you wanted to be when you grow up.  Blond curls dangling, I emphatically said, “My Mother is a Unit Cluck, and I want to be a Cluck too!”  I had a really bad lisp, so Clerk came out as Cluck.  I think the teacher considered sending me for help when I confessed I wanted to be Head Chicken.  I was always misunderstood as a child.

That kinda ended my desire to be a Cluck, er, Clerk. 

From that point on, I kinda jumped from one career wish to another.  After seeing “Silence of the Lambs”, I definitely wanted to be an FBI Agent.  But there was running involved, and I was a really bad runner.  I wanted to be a journalist for quite a long time, but I only wanted to write about stuff I wanted to write about. Which kinda blows that career.  A dancer, a singer, a commercial actress.  No, No, No.  Then Junior year of High School came, where you took a career aptitude test.  It asked you what three careers you would like to have, asked a bazillion questions akin to the SAT, and in 3 weeks, they would send you your results.

Well.  My three career goals were doctor, lawyer, and social worker.  The test came back, which they handed out in class.  I was 100 % ill-suited to become a doctor, so don’t even think of it Missy.  Lawyer wasn’t out of the question but pretty out there, and social worker was a match.  The test provided three career goals that best suited my “aptitude”.  Only one of which I remember, but it’s the one that counts.  Based on all of my answers, I should be…a farmer.

A farmer.

There’s absolutely nothing remotely wrong with farming.  Hell, I live in the Garden State.  But, please tell me, which of my answers, what combination of my results suggested farming was for me?  Was it the analogy questions?  “Banana is to fruit, as pepper is to _?”  Was there a subliminal message in the math questions?  Did my scan-tron sheet somehow indicate a growing plant or pitchfork?

Of course everyone compared results and I was the only farmer in the class.  They might be doctors, but how were they gonna eat without me, I ask you?  Suck it, doc.


Well here I sit, many years later.  Career-less.  I have floated along the business path as a feather dances on the water.  I’ve gone where the direction has taken me, and it’s taken me to a comfortable single lifestyle.   Here I stand at the crossroads.  A chance to start a career that I choose.  Something I want to do.  Something I might be good at.  And I still have not the foggiest idea what I want to be.  Maybe I should be a farmer after all.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


A few years ago, I started a weekly blog:  "Musings of a Former Social Butterfly Turned Cat Lady".  It was my first attempt at writing anything that someone might read, and I thank that "one" for reading it.

My initial desire was to start writing about the adventures I had in my late teens through my twenties, and compare those wild days to where I was in my life now.  It didn't really work out that way.  The more I started to write, the more I decided that my childhood held some damn funny moments, and my day to day - while corporately mundane - held its own, compared to my carefree youth.  Plus, it's best not to put too much craziness online.  I might want to run for political office one day, you know.

A few years later, and now I've decided to try and resuscitate this blog.  Maybe resuscitate isn't the right word.  Maybe breathe new life into is a better term.  The same skeleton, but a different beast.  Franken Butterfly, perhaps? For things have obviously changed since 2013, right?  Right?!  right.

That bring us up to the Autumn of 2013. In wine, it would be called "L'annee de la folle"

"The Crazy Year"

In brief, I lost my sanity at the end of 2013.  I won't delve into the nitty gritty, but I will say it wasn't pretty.  I went on a leave of absence from work and started attending group therapy sessions.  I feel no shame or embarrassment in this.  I did what was required of me in order to not lay in bed all day and contemplate how my navel was actually the center of the universe.

Group Therapy.  What a term.  In essence, this is where the powers that be take a bunch of people they have no idea how to deal with, and shove them in a room and hand them crayons.  I kid you not.  Crayons.  If you aren't staring at your crayons, you are sharing your feelings about crayons.  Or deciding why you prefer pencils to crayons.  Or why markers are FAR SUPERIOR TO CRAYONS, DAMN YOU.  I kid, sort of.  But we did use a lot of crayons.

Group meant sitting around a long cafeteria table and discussing a topic that the counselors brought up.  "Who are you?", asks Jane.  "What do you feel about [insert anything here]," questions Tim.  "Not sharing is your option, Ellen."

If you didn't go into Group scrambled, you certainly came out scrambled with cheese.

Not that it didn't help.  I learned a few things.  I learned that I am a person that other's feel comfortable holding on to when they are at their lowest.  I learned that I wanted to protect the people who had no round hole to fit in.  I learned how to lie to the therapists, in order to help a "friend".  

I was repeatedly spoken to about how "I was there for myself and while people might look to me for a shoulder, this is not something I can adequately provide.  These people needed professional help, and I should focus on my own well-being."

I agreed with one of these statements.  I should have focused more on my own well-being.  Everything else they said was crap.  It was clear that some of these lost souls just needed to hear someone say they care.  Just needed to hear someone say that they understand you're going through hell.  Healing is wonderful.  Learning tools to heal is amazing. But a person has to know that someone cares for them.  That someone gives a crap that they exist.  Group did not provide that for anyone I saw.  Then again, I was scrambled.  What do I know?  They're the experts.  I just know that I didn't swallow what they were offering, and if people are coming to me for help, they didn't swallow it either.

Regardless, I did my time and went back to work with my signed medical letter and a grin on my face.  It might have been a snarky grin, but that I can neither confirm nor deny.


A year of nothing to report except a bad relationship and a lot of unfortunate choices.  I suggest that you do not drink Absinthe with someone who does not want to hold your hair back while you have a love affair with the commode while hallucinating about Sylvia Plath.  I'll leave it at that.

January 2015 - October 2015

Work sucks.  My boss is a socially inept woman who feels that saying hello is equivalent to a royal bow.  So she doesn't bother saying hello.  Well, not true.  She doesn't bother saying hello to me.  If this were Group, she'd be the guy in the corner who says nothing but stares at you like Quint....whispering "Dolls Eyes".  Shiver me timbers.

October 2015-December 14 2015

A wonderful communication is sent 'round declarin' that the office will be experiencin' some layoffs.  Oh no.  Not "some layoffs", me boy, rumor has it, layoffs that amount to half of the company.  

Rumors and insanity abound.  No work is to be done because, why?  Fuck you!  Am I working towards my pink slip?  

December 14, 2015

The stage is set.  All at the Company are told to arrive no later than 8:45. At 9:03, my phone rings from a random conference room number.  My immediate thought it is, "That's odd.  Someone must be lost.".  

Yes. I am an idiot.  But in one brief moment, I have shown that I can be a positive idiot.  Mark that down for posterity.

I'm called up, My VP is there, along with HR.  Any time you asked to attend an unannouced meeting where people's titles are reduced to 2 letters, beware.  This cannot be a good thing.

I'm dealt with in the quickest and most efficient way.  I'm handed off to a lower HR representative and told how to handle things while at my desk.  I have never received such service at any hotel I've stayed in.  And I've stayed in some nice hotels!

I am granted the opportunity to say goodbye to my coworkers and boss. Only one of which I give a shit about, and am thus ushered out of the building I've worked in for almost 10 years.  It took less than 15 minutes.

Well.  Maybe I should have given more attention in Group, after all.  And maybe political office is out.

To Be Continued....

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fly By Night

You can dive with the
The Dragonflies

You can swim with the
The Fireflies

You can dip with the
Of the Butterflies

You can swoon with the
The Alibis
Your days have left me
But not Scared

With the darkness
But Prepared

Your love is not something
That needs to be

I loved you
With a longing

You can dive with the
The Dragonflies

You can swim with the
The Fireflies

You can dip with the
Of the Butterflies

You can swoon with the
The Alibis


Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review - The Secret History

Book Review Series

“The Secret History”
Donna Tartt
Published 1992

“The Secret History” does not start off gently.  The first sentence lets you know just what you’re in for, as the undiscovered body of Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran lies in the melting snow.  This is not a whodunit.  This is not a murder/mystery.  The fact that someone is dead is indeed an integral part of the story, but the fact that someone is dead is never hidden.  Nor does it need to be.  The novel has much more in store for you than that.

The story is told from the perspective of Richard Papen, an isolated and lonely young college student from California who seems to have a shaky future.  His college endeavors have been primarily based on how he could get out of his lower middle-class station in life, and away from his unsupportive parents.  By sheer fate, Richard enrolls in a Greek language course and excels.  This decision proves monumental.

To avoid California life and his family, Richard transfers to fictional Hampden College in Hampden, Vermont, and manages to impress the Greek professor, Julian Morrow. After their second meeting, he is admitted in to the highly selective Greek Studies Course.   This program is a college unto itself, with all courses (except one) being conducted with the same teacher, same students, same classroom.   The students are either isolated or immersed, depending on your viewpoint. 

Only 5 other students are enrolled in this program:  Twins Camilla and Charles Macaulay, Francis Abernathy, Henry Winter, and Edmund (Bunny) Corcoran.  It is immediately clear that Henry is the nucleus of the group.  A head of the Lernaean Hydra.  Richard’s life will never be the same again.  You know this as he enters the room.  You read this in the lines that Donna Tartt paints. 

“The Secret History” weaves a tale with many fibers.  Economic class distinctions, mob mentality, peer pressure, morality, hubris, secrecy, and cultism.  As you read the story, you become immersed in the lives of these people.  You hate them, you love them, you root for them, and you wish them harm.  You forget that they are college students.  That is one of the things that make this novel - any touching novel - worthwhile.  You find yourself amazed at the things these people do, but often forget that they are young adults.  They speak with such knowledge, such eloquence; you need to remind yourself that they have a lot of growing up yet to do.

Broken into two parts, “The Secret History” unravels at steady pace.  You are given enough time to breathe in the characters and to feel them out, but not enough inside scoop to be fully aware of what makes them tick.  That’s the thing about this novel.  You are aware that you are not aware of some vital information.  And some vital information you are never privy to.

Do I have any issues with the story?  Sure.  It can be a bit pretentious.  It can be a bit showy.  I’ve read a decent amount of Greek mythology to know about Dionysius, but some of Ms. Tartt’s scenes do seem as if she’s trying to prove just how smart she is.   The book itself could be cut down a bit, as it lags some in the second part. The narrator can seem a bit frustratingly naive at times. These are minuscule points that I can pick at, for a book that I adored.

Do I recommend “The Secret History”?  Most certainly.  It was a unique and exciting read.  Most importantly, it was one that I didn’t want to end.  I’ve discussed with my friend the question of what makes a good book, a good book?  We agree, that any good book is judged by how it made you, the reader feel, and how (or if) it stuck with you.  I finished this story and still wish I was one of those people who were new to it.  I envy those of you who have yet to read it and can still embark on this journey.

I hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.

With Love
Lady Butterfly

Friday, January 10, 2014

Musings on a Winter Vacation

Or...How I Survived My Alone Time.

This week ushered in my first full time schedule back to work since December 18th.   With more than 2 weeks off, in which I had no plans of any sort¸ I sit here a changed woman.  And probably not for the better.  You have been warned.

 “Time, time, time.  See what’s become of me.”  Those are the lyrics I’m reminded of.  Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter”.  OK, I’m being a tad dramatic.  We’ll make it the Bangles version of the song instead.  To lessen the intensity.

It’s no great epiphany to realize that when I’m at work, I want to be home.  I’m certainly not unique in this regard.  What is eye-opening, however, is that when I’m home, I get bored and turn into The Creature From The Black Lagoon.  Sitting at work I have these images of all of the things I’m going to do while I’m on vacation:  Paint the bedroom, wander around NYC by myself, have wonderfully girly luncheon dates that turn into dinner parties, change my hairstyle, go to the movies, etc, etc, etc.

You know what I did during the 15 days I was off?  Slept, fed the cat, slept, fed the cat, read, slept, fed the cat, read.

The biggest accomplishment I can claim is that I finished 3 books and wrote a few poems.  When I say I did nothing, I mean I DID NOTHING.  I couldn’t even be motivated to…well, never mind.   We’ll just leave that one hanging.

My point being is that given 15 days off in which I could have accomplished any number of things, my immediate instinct was to do nothing.  Which inevitably lead to feeling down and disenchanted with my station in life.  Which then lead to a lovely period of revisiting every painful moment I ever went through.  When, you know, I actually did stuff. 

Far from being healthy, it gets downright scary.  Just how precarious is our (my) state of mind?  This thought ran through my foggy head as I fumbled through my days.  “How easy it seems to turn from a functioning member of society, into a recluse.  Into a hermit.  Into that crazy lady in the corner condo no one ever sees.”   I was shocked at how easily I slipped in to a lifestyle that was damaging to me.  Is this who I really am (I thought)?  Is this the person I would be if I didn’t have a job to go to (I questioned)?  Most importantly:  Who would I be if I had made different decisions, or tried harder?  Is my regular life someone else’s idea of a damaging lifestyle and slippery slope?

My brain’s incessant questioning and berating was taking a toll.  The vicious circle did not take long to begin:  Sleep in late and feel guilty, chastise yourself for being a worthless sack of dung, feel bad about being a worthless sack of dung, remember all of the times you felt like a worthless sack of dung, go to bed and sleep late to avoid feeling like a worthless sack of dung.  Repeat.

Awake one random early morning at 5am, I started to evaluate my life and bump it up against how the world operates, as a whole.  How the microcosm of “just me”, related to the world at large.  To break it down further, I related the world of “me” to the world of “X City”. 

In the world of “X City”, life has a pace.  Like a living organism, it feeds, it operates, it communicates, it supports.   Should you throw a large wrench in to the works, “X City” fundamentally loses its shit.  Seriously, the Department of Waste Management and the Sewage Treatment Plant are in trouble.

“X City” is always operating one second away from disaster.  Look at what happens when a major city loses power.  The city goes crazy.  Our whole life revolves around electricity.  Pretty much every external thing we do requires this power.  When a city loses the ability to “see”, they lose their ability to function.  When a city loses what they are so reliant on having - what they don’t know what to do without - the city begins to lose its connectivity to humanity.  Things that were unthinkable before start to become doable.  How quickly “X City” turns from a fully operational and productive entity, to a place of divisiveness and despair, is amazing.

Sitting there at 5am in the morning, these not-so-deep thoughts made me realize just how close we all are from destruction.  Here I was sitting home during my time off of work and dipping my toe in to a pool of despondency, meanwhile the whole world was just as close as I was to soaking their collective feet as well.

As a human race, we just don’t seem built to handle change very well.  While we will adapt, eventually, our initial reaction is to revert back to instincts that are more…primal.  Survival of the self, hiding, providing shelter, seeking food, avoiding danger.  In my own way, that’s exactly what I did when my world was shaken up by (GASP!) a vacation that lasted too long.

In the end, I think I’ve made some of my own discoveries.  Take them as you will:

  • The monotony of daily life is underrated.  Having something consistent is a welcome blanket in a world full of things we have no control over
  • We, as a people, are not nearly as advanced as we like to think we are
  • We like to complain.  It makes us feel like we have options we wouldn't take anyway.  And that's OK
  • Too much time off with nothing planned is an exceptionally bad idea
  • You are who you are.  Eventually, you're going to have to come to terms with who that actually is

Happy New Year All!  I hope 2014 brings you nothing but the best of everything.  For me?  Well, I’m counting down until my next vacation 

With Love
Lady Butterfly