Hi Everyone, thanks for tuning in and thanks Stacey for having me on board. For the next few days I’ll be writing in one way or another about words/sounds and history/imagination.
I’ll start with my personal story about the messiness between fact and fiction. As a tiny girl, my mother took me on the train from the suburbs of New York into the city where I took painting lessons in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum. I loved to paint pictures in my head.
When I was ten years old, polio struck. I was shocked to be immobilized, first by the deadening effect of polio and later by an enormous body cast. As my body was losing motion, my mind was painting. I remember lying inert in my hospital bed, focused on the dots of the hospital ceiling tiles. I pretended they were all kinds of animals on the move - bears, camels, foxes on parade.
With the help of my pal, my imagination, I joked around on the hospital ward, making life not only bearable but fun. Looking monster-like in my full-length body cast, I wrote a letter to the Barbizon School of Modeling, asking whether I could become a model. Here’s their dead-serious response:
Although my illness made for a rich mental life, no amount of pretending could alleviate my actual physical confinement. Had I focused on that rather than letting my mind wander free, I can’t imagine how miserable I would have been. In fact, during those strenuously hard years, I felt very alive. Better a life without such obstacles, but for me, immobility shaped my vision.
After polio, I valued my mind’s flexibility like gold. Eventually, the poetry and prose I wrote relied on imagination.
Now, after many decades, I’ve written my true story, a memoir of all things, in which not all is true. I’ve made some things up, like an earthquake that hit our town. Even with clues that the incident is metaphorical, my sister called and said, “I didn’t know there was an earthquake in Larchmont!”
There’s a new turn on the fact/fiction front for me. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a major character in Polio Boulevard, has emerged in a new project focused solely on him. In these pages, I am driven to have every word factually correct. A first! Nothing made up as far as that’s possible -- a new universe.
Three years after FDR was stricken with polio at 39, he bought a houseboat with a friend and named it the Larooco. This was after he was assistant secretary of the Navy but before he was Governor of New York and long before he was President of the United States.
From 1924-26, he spent a few months each winter in the Florida Keys on the boat. It was the most withdrawn-from- the-world period of his life. While there, Roosevelt kept a nautical log, writing longhand each day about fish caught, weather, the boat’s route, engine trouble, meals, and guests.
Here’s how the Larooco Log begins:
Saturday, February 2, 1924
At Jacksonville, Florida, FDR went on board and put Larooco in commission. Sailing-master Robert S. Morris and Mrs. Morris spent the day getting provisions, and the trunks, etc. were duly unpacked, fishing gear stowed and Library of World’s Worst Literature placed on shelves.
And on he goes. Ship ahoy!