It’s hard for me to even begin to tally up my basic goals in taking a trip to Boston, but I’ll give it a shot since it’s the obvious place to begin. Foremost in my mind was Annie Fields, although I haven’t been especially close to her life and work recently, but I did check out Rita Gollin’s biography in my latest trip to the library, along with her book on the portraits of Hawthorne. I didn’t bring Gollin’s books with me, however, as I’m an anxious traveler and worry about losing my bag. That seems silly in retrospect, as the books could be replaced easily enough. Anxiety and scattered, obsessive, even chaotic planning and execution are my standard mode, however, something that I just have to accept.
I knew I was going to be staying for at least one night down at the end of Charles Street, by the river, and that would cover the first goal. Annie Fields lived on Charles St. for 60+ years, and Willa Cather’s essay about Fields and Jewett, which appears in her book “Not Under 40,” is called “142 Charles Street.” Next on my list was Annie Fields’ diary, 63 volumes sitting in the Masschusetts Historical Society. Also on the Fields list was Manchester-by-the-Sea, where she and JT Fields had a summer home, and I was going to be staying nearby, out on Cape Ann, in Essex. And that seemed to be the AAF items, going in.
Next comes Hawthorne. I didn’t expect to be spending a good part of the year reading and writing about Hawthorne, but ever since The Blithedale Romance was recommended to me as a follow-up to Henry James’ The Bostonians, or rather as a crucial predecessor, it seems as if I haven’t been able to get away from Hawthorne. My Hawthorne pilgrimage goals were rather general, and I had already gone through Salem briefly with my daughter on our college tour in 07, and I remembered it as a good place from which to steer clear, overrun by witch kitsch. But it is right there on the north coast, and I was ready to go back and poke around a bit. I should mention that we had spent a morning in Concord on that college tour, and it was much more satisfying than our stop in Salem, so I felt like I had a good sense of Emerson and Thoreau’s stomping grounds and the setting of Hawthorne’s Old Manse, and I wasn’t thinking about going back.
In my accustomed manner, I was hoping to knock out the Peabody sisters with the Hawthone stone. Or I should say that I was looking at Hawthorne in part through his relationship with his wife and her sister, who had their own presence in Salem. And again, none of these interests were attached to any specific plans or methods on how to pursue them. Salem was there, in close proximity with all of its kitsch, and it would get sorted out somehow.
Next I should mention Richard Yates. Last year my Yates correspondent KCJ had come from England and her own Essex to read through the Yates archive at Boston University. She’s finishing up her dissertation now, and at the time I prodded her to meet with Yates colleagues and scholars and keep track of it all on a blog, and her trip turned into an amusing adventure that ended with her hanging out with Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes after the New York City premiere of Revolutionary Road. She did a great job of writing it all up over at KateonYates. In my vague plan I set aside two extra days, one for the Annie Fields diaries, and one for the Yates archive, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get to the Yates papers. My guess was that I would cover Yates by having a beer at the Crossroads Pub, where he got drunk every afternoon and evening for years and years.
And finally, before I left, I had read Kipling’s Captains Courageous, which provides a great description of the Gloucester-based 19th century cod fishing fleet. So I wanted to see Gloucester, since I was going to be in the neighborhood. I confirmed my lousy memory that The Perfect Storm is set in Gloucester and wanted to look at Junger’s book again, but I forgot to grab my copy as I headed out. As always I would be stopping in bookstores, and I was curious to see if there would be copies littered all over Gloucester, kind of like the witches in Salem.
These were the basic literary goals. I also wanted to make sure that we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which I have heard great things about and missed on previous visits. And I figured that the Museum of Fine Arts would get thrown into the mix along with the ISG. But it was all up for grabs, more or less.
When I got back from the trip there was an email from my professor friend, the person who had recommended that I read Blithedale. He had read Annie Fields’ obscure novel Asphodel, and sent me his thoughts. Yesterday, in reply, I was recounting a couple of scenes from my trip in my return email. I quoted the beginning of AAF’s diary, where she writes, on July 27, 1863, “I wonder much how I have already allowed so many years to elapse without making an attempt at least to record something of the interesting events in literature which are constantly passing under my knowledge.” Throughout my trip, as I was looking at the diary, stumbling through Salem, or driving around Cape Ann, I would head back to the film set where my daughter was working and my friends were making a movie, and I would sit around video village while movie stars would make fun of me by saying things like “your daughter just told me that she likes her boyfriend better than you.” My own odd persona, subject of all sorts of ironies, was complemented by my daughter’s quiet, serious, youthful presence. It made for a strange, fun week.
There are two ways that I can approach generating a narrative of my experience. I can cover the literary-historical elements, keeping up with my standard blogging practice. Or I can go whole hog, and try to capture the strange attempt to combine advanced parenting practice, a New England literary pilgrimage, and contemporary studio big budget filmmaking from my own jaundiced, professional point of view. I found myself, in my email reply, altering the quote to say “I wonder much how I have already allowed so many years to elapse without making an attempt at least to record something of the interesting events in movie-making which are constantly passing under my knowledge.” I happen to enjoy my literary pursuits, associations, and speculations, and I try to keep my movie experiences (and frustrations) separate and private, but AAF’s statement gives me pause. Obviously, that’s where the real meat is on this crazy bone. A lot more people will have a lot more interest in stories about Adam Sandler, Selma Hayak, Kevin James and Chris Rock, than they would about Annie Fields, Elizabeth Peabody, and Richard Yates. It’s what we like to call a long strange trip to live in both worlds, a quiet exercise in fear and loathing that isn’t exactly gonzo, just a bit surreal around the edges from time to time. I’ll take the general prompt from Annie F. and make a note to write more about Hollywood, one way or another, and in this specific case we’ll just see how it goes.
So that’s the beginning of the little narrative I’ve been working on for the last week and it has been going very well. I realized I can make excerpts for blog purposes covering the literary parts. The fun stuff, of course, is the wacky minor Hollywood hijinks, not to mention parenting follies, but that will all probably end up locked away in the studio vault, like AAF’s diary.