Not A Pink Girl

Ha ha! I beat you! | August 18, 2008

Okay, get this: I beat out Judy Garland, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, Anne Sexton, Gilda Radner, Sylvia Plath, Flannery O’Connor, Jane Austen, Jack Kerouac, Frida Kahlo, & Vincent van Gogh. Yes, me!

Today I am 48. All the people I just named – all of whom I admire – died at the age of 47 or younger. Can you believe it?

Marilyn Monroe is a pretty obvious one. She was 36 when she died in 1962. I know she’s an American icon & much-emulated (think Scarlett Johansson, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Jayne Mansfield, Mamie van Doren). But when you’re flipping through the cable channels late on a Friday night, looking for something half-decent to watch (good luck), if you land on a Marilyn Monroe movie (like Bus Stop, or Some Like It Hot [one of my all-time favorite movies], or How To Marry a Millionaire), just watch it for a few minutes. See? She really was special. She had this inner light that made her glow like something otherworldly. I’ve never seen another person have this special something. Maybe she just wasn’t meant for this world.

I perceive Judy Garland as seeming much older than 47 when she died of what could have been an accidental overdose of drugs & alcohol. That poor thing had the most insatiable of stage mothers, so she was working (hard) from toddlerhood until death. She, too, was one of those beings who just had something about her that held her above mere mortals. Even in her most borderline-B movies, she shines.

Frida Kahlo – whose work has been much emulated but never equaled – lived her adult life in pain. She was a girl of precocious passion who just felt things more deeply than her Catholic-school classmates in her hometown near Mexico City. Many of her paintings depict a woman imprisoned by her own body, a reflection of the pain with which she was wracked after a near-fatal bus accident when she was barely a young woman. But she had the mystical gift of being able to translate this horror into heartfelt & moving works of art that captured the spirits of everyone from barkeeps & their patrons to the legendary muralist Diego Rivera, her lifelong love & muse. She was 47 when she died.

F. Scott Fitzgerald shared his adoration of New York City & of his sweetheart, Zelda, both tormented entities that at times bewitched & bewildered him, & ultimately brought him great sadness & heartache. Zelda wrestled with mental illness & alcoholism; Scott (as he was called), a boy from St. Paul Minnesota who, through his timeless writing, introduced the rest of America to New York as a living, breathing thing in which to be immersed, drowned his paralysis – at not being able to free Zelda from her mind-prison – in booze. Scott (who died at 44) & Zelda (who died at 47) are buried down the road from where I grew up in suburban Washington, DC.

Flannery O’Connor, one of the greatest Southern writers to ever pick up a pen, at the age of 41 died of lupus, the same disease that killed her beloved father. If you haven’t read any of her works, start with A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. I guarantee you’ve never read anything like it. Flannery had a lifelong love of all kinds of birds, something I share with her. She kept chickens & actually became famous as a child for teaching one how to walk backwards (chickens are quite smart & make good pets). Her farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville Georgia, was overrun with peacocks in her lifetime. If you are ever down in rural Georgia, you must stop & visit Flannery’s home. I was there 3 years ago & it was unforgettable. I could feel her spirit, although the peacocks are gone. It’s peaceful & hot & soul-stirring there.

One of the common threads of all those I named in the first paragraph is that they each were markedly out of the ordinary, they might even have said “misfits.” I feel that way, too. Maybe that’s the universal human experience.

But, as Woody Allen said, “Life is dull, life is full of pain. The trick is to enjoy life, accepting that it has no meaning whatsoever.” He also said, life is “full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” If I could only have the talent & courage to leave a legacy a tenth of which any of these unique individuals have given to me & the world, I would have accomplished something special in this life whose beginning I celebrate today.

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