Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham
I love the way Alice is the only part of the picture portrayed realistically.
(Alice in Wonderland— and all of Lewis Carroll’s other books– are in the public domain and may be downloaded freely from Project Gutenberg.)
From a letter Zelda Fitzgerald sent to her husband F. Scott:
I wish we could spend July by the sea, browning ourselves and feeling water-weighted hair flow behind us from a dive. I wish our gravest troubles were the summer gnats. I wish we were hungry for hot-dogs and dopes¹ and it would be nice to smell the starch of summer linens and the faint odor of talc in blistering bath-houses… We could lie in long citroneuse beams of the five o’clock sun on the plage at Juan-les-Pins and hear the sound of the drum and piano being scooped out to sea by the waves.
In her life she tried to write short stories and novels and plays, but her real forte may have been a medium she never tried: poetry.
¹ “Dopes” were a kind of syrupy, carbonated soft drink
This excerpt from Zelda by Nancy Milford, ©1970, describes an incident that took place when she was in her mid-twenties, before mental illness consumed her life. She must have been quite a force of nature:
When Zelda indulged in high jinks that summer there was a quality about the performance that was striking; she seemed unconcerned about the presence of others and that gave her actions an unforgettable touch. One evening the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds were sitting at a table in the Casino at Juan-les-Pins. It was very late and nearly everyone had gone home. Zelda rose from the table and raising her skirts above her waist began to dance. Motionless, Scott sat watching her. When the orchestra caught on it played to her. At first the Murphys were startled, and then, Gerald said, “I remember it was perfect music for her to dance to and soon the Frenchmen who were left gathered about the archways leading to the small dance area near our table gaped at her– they expected to see a show, something spectacular. Well, it was spectacular, but not at all in the way they had expected it to be. She was dancing for herself; she didn’t look left or right, or catch anyone’s eyes. She looked at no one, not once, not even at Scott. I saw a mass of lace ruffles as she whirled– I’ll never forget it. We were frozen. She had the tremendous natural dignity. She was so self-possessed, so absorbed in her dance. Somehow she was incapable of doing anything unladylike.”
In this letter to Scott from her hospital room while being treated for mental illness, Zelda Fitzgerald yearns for days gone by:
I wonder why we have never been very happy and why all of this has happened– It was much nicer a long time ago when we had each other and the space about the world was warm– Can’t we get it back someway– even by imagining?
It reminds me sadly, of a line from an old Doobie Brother’s song, What a Fool Believes: “Trying hard to recreate what had yet to be created.” She seems just on the precipice of realizing that what she’s longing for was a time that never really existed.
In this excerpt from a letter to Scott, Zelda Fitzgerald describes her mental illness in words that sound very much like Beat Poetry:
In Paris, before I realized that I was sick, there was a new significance to everything: stations and streets and facades of buildings– colors were infinite, part of the air, and not restricted by the lines that encompassed them and lines were free of the masses they held. There was music that beat behind my forehead and other music that fell into my stomach from a high parabola and there was some of Schumann that was still and tender and the sadness of Chopin Mazurkas– Some of them sound as if he thought he couldn’t compose them– and there was the madness of turning, turning, turning through the decisiveness of Litz. Then the world became embryonic in Africa– and there was no need for communication. The Arabs fermenting in the vastness; the curious quality of their eyes and the smell of ants; a detachment as if I was on the other side of a black gauze…
From Zelda by Nancy Milford, ©1970, pages 166-167.
Excerpted from the book I’m currently reading, Zelda: A Biography by Nancy Milford © 1970:
She also had a knack of drawing attention to herself. Stories about her escapades abound in Montgomery. There is one about when Zelda, having nothing better to do on a fine summery day, called up the fire department and told them that a child was caught on a roof and couldn’t get down. Then Zelda got a ladder, climbed up to the roof of her own house, pushed the ladder away and waited. The fire engine came clanging its bell and the neighbors rushed out to see where the fire was. There Zelda sat marooned, and delighted by the commotion.
It’s probably a lot funnier when it’s not your child.
Excerpted from Brief Encounters by Dick Cavett, © 2014:
The question I can never find an answer to is the one that makes dreams so mysterious. When you watch a movie or read a story you don’t know what’s coming next. You’re surprised by what happens as it unfolds. You know that someone wrote the book or made the movie.
But who in the hell is the author of a dream? How can it be anyone but you? But how can it be you if it’s all new to you, if you don’t know what’s coming? Do you write the dream, then hide it from yourself, forget it, and then “sit out front” and watch it? Everything in it is a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant. And, unlike a book or film, you can’t fast-forward to see how it comes out. So where does it come from? And who “wrote” it?
(I apologize if I’ve led you to think I have the answers.)