Friday, April 19, 2019

MY AUNT, IRENE KITTLE KAMP



 About Renie...



Irene Kittle Kamp was born in 1910, and became a writer at the age of 18, when she graduated from high school during the Depression. My mother, her eventual sister-in-law, had great admiration for Renie for her resourcefulness at such a young age. My father, the oldest sibling of five, and Renie and her three sisters, lost their mother, Irene Rutan Kittle, to kidney failure at the age of 43. My father was 21 when it happened, about to marry my mother. The youngest of the sisters was 12 and the oldest was about 18, but the sisters were overseen beautifully by the wonderful Granny Kittle, whose 97th birthday party I later attended as a little girl. Due to the Depression, jobs were scarce for all, but Renie found a job at a newspaper in Long Island, the Daily Review, where she worked on the obituary pages, interviewing families for information for the listings. And she went forward from that job to Conde Nast in New York City, to Cue Magazine, where she did drama reviews, and to Glamor and Seventeen magazines (Editor and Editor-in-Chief.) In the 1950s and 60s, Renie wrote many short stories with her writer/artist husband, Louis Kamp, for the Saturday Evening Post. She then began writing for films, and in collaboration with other writers, had screenwriting credits for "Paris Blues", 1961, "The Lion", 1962, "The Sandpiper", 1965 (screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, Michael Wilson, Louis Kamp and Irene Kamp), "The Beguiled", 1971, and "The Possession of Joel Delaney", 1972. Renie and Louis both went on to write plays, and in 1966, Renie had her play, "The Great Indoors", produced on Broadway. Renie died in 1985 at 75. Her obituary can be found in the New York Times archives, titled: "Irene Kittle Kamp, Editor Who Wrote for Stage and Films." 



THis below, from the New York Times archive, is Renie’s article about her surgery for cancer in 1979:



The New York Times ARCHIVES 1979

Health; FACING A NEW FACE ‘When I was told I had cancer and that surgery would take off my nose, I was sure the only way I could deal with it was to kill myself.’

By IRENE KITTLE KAMP

SEPT. 9, 1979


About the New York Times Archive:

September 9, 1979, page 129 - This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. Please send reports of such problems to archive_feedback@nytimes.com.

A year and a half ago, I went into the hospital at the Medical Center of the University of California at Los Angeles and had my nose and part of my face removed by Dr. Harvey Zarem, head of plastic surgery at U.C.L.A. The operation is called a resection of squamous cell carcinoma of the nose, the upper lip and the jaw bone. I waited until I was quite alone to look into a mirror and see the great hole in my face. For a moment everything inside me seemed to lurch sideways and up as though all of me wanted to get outside of me. And then my stomach steadied and I swallowed bile. I stood forlorn in a bleak landscape. I had stayed too long at the fair.
When I'd been told that the lesion inside my nose was cancer and that if not removed it could spread and kill me and that the necessary surgery would probably take off my nose, I was quite sure that the only way I could deal with that was to kill myself.
I am 10 years younger than the century. I have, as a Chinese curse has it, “lived in interesting times,” and while I can't say that it has all been grand, it has certainly all been rich, wonderful and also terrible. Go now, I told myself, before it gets to be just plain terrible, all wonder gone.
But I didn't go. I had just been through a very good experience and I simply would not accept the possibility that my end was near. I had finished a rough draft of a new play, “Sashay Ladies, All Sashay,” that had two very affirmative readings at the little Los Angeles theater that Oliver Halley and Elizabeth Forsythe Bailey had established for playwrights, and I thought if I can hang around a while longer, I will see the play done big and then I will go quietly. I learned that while surgery was the preferred treatment for nose cancers, there had been some success with cobalt radiation; so I chose the radiation. I had six weeks of it; Louis Kamp, the man I live with (who is my former husband), and I went to New York to celebrate. On our return to Los Angeles, another biopsy showed the old squamous cell to be still very much there. Surgery was imperative.

As I looked at what had been my face, I was the little fox, cornered. I could not go now. I had neither the strength nor the courage nor the privacy necessary to do it. I had let myself get involved with people whose work it was to take off my face and give it back to me; I could not quit in the middle. It was just plain terrible at this point and there was nothing I could do about it.

I didn't cry, I didn't scream and I didn't turn nasty or difficult. I behaved very well and many people have called me brave. I don't call it bravery. For me it was simply a bitter estimation of my position. I was a hostage: to Dr. Zarem, his staff, the hospital people, to Louis, friends who care and call (or sometimes don't call). A hostage walks in a state of controlled and obedient terror; pathetic, pliable, paranoid and very quiet.
It all began, it seemed, with a prolonged cold in the winter of 1977. I've had various flus, but a common cold was rare for me. After the cold cleared up, I saw a tiny lesion inside my nose, in the septum area. I assumed it had been rubbed raw by too much nose blowing, so I ignored it. On a routine visit to my doctor, Morton Effron, I said, “This thing in my nose doesn't go away.” He looked at it and said, “You'd better have a biopsy, it could be a lowgrade cancer.
No bell sounded; no knell either. I'd never feared cancer. Never. Not me. I've had too many other fancy diseases killing, weird illnesses. Like the time I died as an ambulance delivered me to a hospital where they stomped on me and brought me back to life. I had had an acute coronary infarction, but in a few weeks was up and around and mildly sassy. Cancer, I was sure, would pass me up. It didn't.
Dr. Effron sent me to Dr. Robert O. Ruder, a nose and ear man. He took two biopsies. After the second one, he asked me to come in and bring Louis. We came in. He said: It is cancer. I think he called it by its rightful name: squamous cell carcinoma. Dr. Ruder and Louis looked very grave. I don't know how I looked. I just felt we mustn't break down now; we must try to be cheerful and pleasant.
I'm not sure whether it helps to have a handsome doctor, but it does give you something to look at instead of the gloomy future. Dr. Ruder is a beautiful young man, with a face you'd expect to see in an Italian movie, except he is tall and lean like a California basketball star. I went along with whatever he suggested, slightly numb but grimly determined to stay light and mocking.
He asked if I would mind letting a whole cabal of doctors—gathered in a seminar at U.C.L.A. — look up my nose. A second opinion, multiplied a hundred times. And free. I have always enjoyed being looked at, so I dressed carefully for an afternoon gathering of doctors at a lecture hall at U.C.L.A.
I was directed to a platform and seated under powerful lights. There, a dignified, whitehaired personification of your friendlyneighborhood highpriced specialist shone a light on my tiltedback face and began what to me was an incomprehensible lecture.
Now the young ones began to troop up on stage and stare at my nose. There was more discussion, many questions and I was dismissed. Later, Dr. Ruder gave me their conclusions. Have it out, or it could, probably would, within five years spread all over my face and kill me.
Louis asked many questions. Dr. Ruder was most candid. If he had the cancer he would have it cut out at once. Would the nose go? Some of it, surely. What other choice is there? Cobalt radiation. How successful is it? In some cases, completely successful, and, of course, it is not as destructive as surgery. Go home and think about it, Dr. Ruder said. We did that.
After I chose the radiation, I was directed to a private clinic in Los Angeles very near to where Louis and I live. I can't say that I made my choice out of laziness. I think anyone would choose any reprieve from losing one's nose.
I believed in the radiation, believed firmly, religiously, passionately. But the radiation didn't get rid of that old squamous cell. I had bet on my own luck; it had failed me.
Dr. Ruder was so distressed by the failure of the radiation therapy that as a courtesy to him I said I would go again to U.C.L.A. and let the plastic surgery head, Dr. Zarem, tell me about surgery.
Those were the days when Louis would say, “You can always kill yourself. But listen to them, at least, listen.”
Maybe it's California, maybe it's just my fate, but Dr. Zarem is also a very handsome man. Like an amiable Humphrey Bogart. Nice to look at while you listen. Also charming, gracious and, under the circumstances, even amusing. He also reminded me of my father as a handsome young man.
Dr. Zarem made no promises. We go in, look around, take out everything we think necessary. You can and probably will lose a good part of the nose, the bone ... After the examination, he summoned Louis, who had been waiting outside, and explained it all to him. He was patient, thorough, precise. Indeed, with Louis there, he added: “I must warn you, Mrs. Kamp, that after the operation you will look like you've been hit in the face with a grenade. We can also put things back to some degree.”
That was in February 1978. Dr. Zarem could put me into the hospital on March 5 and operate on March 6. I accepted the date, figuring that I could always cancel.
I never underestimated what was going to happen to me. My terror was that I could not handle the afterward and it would then be too late to get out.
I did not at any time feel sorry for myself. I did wish I could be out of it without doing anything, but I did not ask what many cancer victims do ask, “Why me?” Indeed, in this century of the Holocaust, I think it is obscene to ask such a question of any personal calamity. “Why not me?” I would snarl at friends who asked the question for me. I still didn't cry, but I think I took to snarling during this period. I was the cornered fox.
While I didn't feel sorry for myself, I never minded and I still do not mind other people feeling sorry for me. Go ahead, be my guest. Compassion sweetens the air. A small sorrow I permitted myself was the fact that at this time of my life I was betterlooking than I had ever been. Age had given my face something that youth had withheld.
The great medical and research conglomerate that is U.C.L.A. Medical Center is in Westwood, which lies between Beverly Hills and the sea. Unlike most southern California communities, you don't just see people on the street, you see lots of people, mostly young and golden and healthy. I noticed what beautiful noses they all had.
The Sunday afternoon of my first entry was most reassuring. The room was quite spacious for a hospital, furnished and decorated like a rather nice motel. The afternoon was taken up by trips to be Xrayed, to have an electrocardiogram and other tests. It did seem to me that everyone — nurse, wheelchair attendant, technician — seemed to know all about me, called me by name.
Louis went with me when Xrays were taken of my head and later he said to me, Those pictures of slices of your head went by satellite to the Soviet Union.” Oh, sure, I said, “they want to know what it looks like because they are suspicious of the fact that I was born on the day and the year that Tolstoy died in Russia.” Louis and I talk this way.
I sent Louis away, knowing at this point I was as ready as I'd ever been. I had moved into a state of strange, lightheaded euphoria — an abnormal feeling of buoyant vigor and health. I suspect there are many who call up euphoria as a way of dealing with terror. Soldiers going into battle must feel it, else they would run away, I should think.
As evening came, there was much coming and going of nurses, the anesthesiologist, the team of resident doctors and finally, Dr. Zarem, who tried to tell me what the procedure for the next morning would be. I did not really hear, much less understand, anything of what he said. But I nodded, nodded.
The soft voices of all around me reminded me of a scene in a great movie: On the eve of the battle for Agincourt, Olivier as Henry V mingles with his soldiers at the campfire, their voices low, contemplative; afraid but also unafraid, committed. Now, besides Bogart and my father, Dr. Zarem reminded me of Olivier as Henry V. As he said good night to me, there was in his eyes something I came to look for, to feel reassured when I saw it. There is a point where his eyes seem to focus on something deeper inside your own eyes, as though gauging at a very deep level your wellbeing, your stamina...your chances.
At what seemed dawn the next day, nurses slid softly in to wake me, remove my own nightgown and slip on the hospital gown. The anesthesiologist came and stuck some needles in me. I was rolled from my bed to a gurney and off we went, trundling swiftly, smoothly, silently to the dungeonlike lower depths to a room where there were already other patients with i.v. bottles hanging high by their gurneys.
I was sliding under by now. And then, my father's eyes, shining between the bluegreen cap and mask, came close and looked deeply at me. Dr. Zarem was here. I could safely sleep. I did.
But only for a moment. I woke up and a nurse came over and smiled down at me. I said, quite petulantly, “Oh, when do they take me? When do they start?” And she said, “It's over, Irene. It's all done.” That was Monday, March 6, 1978.
I remember very little of the rest of that day. I was probably thoroughly sedated. Whenever I came to, there was always a nurse hovering. Louis seemed to drift in and out, looking suddenly young and handsome. Later I was to wonder, did he look handsomer to me because I was sure I would look hideous?
By Tuesday I was well aware of the bandages over my face and the doctors and nurses coming in and peeking under them. I sipped liquids from straws, took the medications and slept.
On Wednesday 1 went home. Louis could not do enough for me. It distressed me to think of this 71-year-old man going up and down stairs all day long, carrying trays, bringing mail, books, flowers. So on Thursday I got up, got dressed and went downstairs and had some of my blessed filtered coffee. For the first time I really stared at the great hole in my face. Of the nose, only the bridge was left and the two outer nostrils.
I took to singing. “Goodbye, my lady love, / Farewell, my turtle dove, / Goodbye, oh, goodbye, nose that used to be.” A tiny graft of skin taken from my right leg had been laid in under the nose to connect the nose area to the lip area, but I could see how much of the tissue under the nose had been removed. Nothing hurt. Except the place on my leg from which skin had been taken to make the face graft. That place seemed to fret under the iodinesoaked gauze pad. Irritating, nothing more.
I was alive, I was as cancerfree as a great doctor could tell me I was, and there was good reason to believe that eventually — oh, a year at least — I would have a reasonable facsimile of a face. But felt I had made a terrible mistake. I did not see how I could get through what lay ahead. I quailed at the thought of the terrible sacrifice that Louis would now begin to make for me, my needs, my vulnerability. I was sure he would grow to hate me. I hated myself, this different, dependent, frightened unself.
I am a fantastically vain woman. Not a beautiful woman, not even really a pretty woman. But I have always managed to look good and I've taken great pride in that. I knew that some part of what I was feeling was simply vanity. But there was something else. The central fact of my life, I do believe, is my ability to communicate swiftly, easily. Some of this had been developed in childhood; I am one of five children, the middle child, but my grandmother always sent me out on the difficult errands, telling me, “Oh, laugh and say, laugh and say.” I was never told exactly what to say, but I did learn to say it with an open and merry face.
Later, as a young woman in New York, the depression sitting like a dirty gray bathrobe over the wounded city and Hitler's crazy screeching sounding on the radio, I joined the Communist Party. I was later expelled for what one of my judges called “bourgeois individualism.” But at that time the party seemed the only political group trying to deal seriously with either the depression or Hitler.
I was living on Bank Street in the Village and I would rise before dawn, put my little white gloves and my smart French beret in a paper bag and go to the New York docks where I sold Daily Workers to longshoremen. It was supposed to be dangerous, and for the male comrades…it was. They were usually beaten up. But the longshoremen accepted me, even bought papers or took the leaflets (asking them not to load supplies to Nazi Germany) I distributed. Afterward I would catch a cab, and once inside put on my beret and my gloves and go to work at the place where they published Vogue. I don't think this activity did much to promote any of the things I believed in. I think the men bought my wares to indulge a small and determinedly pleasant girl. But those mornings made me forever free with strangers. And even as a frail old lady I have not been afraid to move through the unknown, speak to the stranger.
But now, I could never do that again. My damaged face would interfere with any direct communication, would inspire a frightened stare or a turnedaway face. I have seen mutilated people being brave, determined, bold even in their efforts to communicate with others. Where did it get most of them? I knew I could not be that brave.
Fortunately, the man I live with, Louis Kamp, has always preferred a very private life. I had always chafed against this; it had been a contention between us. But now, I subsided into the quiet life, wary, skittish, but eventually comfortable.
Louis is a very good painter as well as writer. He had been in the 84th Engineer Camouflage Battalion, which operated in Africa, France and Germany during World War II, and had designed and constructed many things to fool enemy eyes. He now set himself to devising something to go under my bandages to hide the fact that there was no nose underneath. He would bring me little halfcone constructions of gauze and tape to try on. As we tried these out, we began to laugh, discussing the havoc we might cause if I went out without anything under the bandage. Or even a bandage. It was dark laughter an indulgence in a moment of cruel, nasty fantasy.
Around the house I did not wear a bandage it was all healing marvelously and one morning at breakfast Louis looked across at me and said, “You know, you look kind of cute with that hole in your face."
I did not encourage callers and I would not go near Beverly Hills or Hollywood. I did not want to run into anyone who did not know and would have to be told in the middle of the air. The only exercise I like is walking, so we took to driving to downtown Los Angeles and walking around the sweet old buildings there.
Everyone knows that we do not yet know what really causes cancer, yet when you get it yourself, you are sure that yours must have a cause which can be found. You ask, you search, you ponder. Dr. Zarem had this to say about my cancer: “We know that squamous cell cancers and basal cell cancers of the skin, the nose, the mouth can be caused by irritation. And a chronic irritation, a repeated irritation can cause a cancer of this type. We also see them when they come out of nowhere, so in any given case we can't be certain.”
He said cancer inside the nose is not common, but it definitely does happen. Asked if he has had to take off many noses, he said, “We have to do it frequently in this community because of inadequately treated skin cancers that involved the entire nose.”
Naturally, I asked if he had gotten to mine earlier would as much destruction have been necessary. His answer was: “From the description of what you had I think that probably it would have taken pretty much the same route, but that is speculation. We would rather not have had the radiation because a lot of the problems we are dealing with now [the tip of the nose has not yet healed properly) may be due to radiation.”
I've smoked since I was 16 years old, so all my nonsmoking friends think they know what caused my cancer. But once Dr. Zarem noticed some mottled spots on my throat under my ears, and asked what they were. Over 50 years ago I'd been told what they were. Because as a girl in her early teens, I'd had constant bouts of tonsillitis. And because I was always a frail child, it was decided that instead of an operation to remove the tonsils, I should have the great new thing, Xray. Every week, throughout a summer, my father took me to that gray pile, St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, where my tonsils were gradually removed by Madame Curie's magic rays. A few years later the marks began to show up.
Could those Xrays have caused this cancer? Well, Dr. Zarem said, if it had gotten to your nose...but it's speculation. We do know that children who were radiated in the neck for tonsils have an extremely high percentage of thyroid cancer later. We feel that anyone who's had their tonsils radiated should have the thyroid removed, period.” My thyroid had been removed 30 years before at what is now Memorial SloanKettering Cancer Center in New York. It had not been malignant.
Recently, a friend told me of a doctor in Birmingham, England, who has been doing research on nose cancer. Among his findings: There is a great deal of nose cancer in south China ; nose cancer may be caused by an airborne virus. I am subject to things that are more usual in distant places where I've never been. Like the encephalitis I had as a teenager, caught, it was assumed years later, from feeding my brother's pigeons. I had always heard that encephalitis is most common among female teenagers of India.
For a long while after the first operation, I was abnormally afraid that it would all start up again. When he learned of this, Dr. Zarem was very firm, almost stern. “Should that ever happen, you will be the first to know after I know.” Reassuring, as far as it goes, but I'm sure that everyone who has had any cancer of any kind carries the same fear forever after.
I was, at this period, in and out of Dr. Zarem's office at least once a week. Two months later, Dr. Zarem booked me into the hospital for the start of reconstruction. I was to learn that the taking off is nothing; the putting back is like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. I know, because Louis was working on a musical about Bosch, and books of his paintings were all over the house. Most of the Bosch grotesqueries looked better than I did. Reconstruction is a very complicated, strange series of procedures. Sometimes it has the rhythm of “one step forward and two back.”
To get skin and tissue to plug up the hole between the nose and the lip, skin at each side of my nose was taken and brought down to grow little tusks at each side; later, these were laid back and up to form an incredible graft. To get a tip for the nose, skin was taken from my forehead and laid down over one eye and caught at the nose; also later much of this was laid back. To get a bone for the nose, a sliver of my own bone was taken from my hip, slipped down into the nose through slits in the area between eyebrows.
Up until now, though the sight of my destroyed face saddened me, I had not thought much about doing away with myself. Up until now, the hope for simple survival had been enough. But as we embarked on the reconstruction, I was suddenly plunged back into the old “slough of despond” and I knew I needed something more than the need to survive to...survive.
So, before I went into the hospital again I got out the discarded draft of “Sashay Ladies, All Sashay,” and though I would put it aside every time I went into the hospital, soon after I'd get back I'd take it out and work on it.
I began to take a new technique into the operating room with me. No matter what was done sometimes with only a local anesthetic I would visualize my play in a great set by Peter Larkin, beautifully lit by Tharon Musser, being given that fourth wall that Geraldine Page carries around with her in a shopping bag. These three had once served me well and this time I added Katharine Hepburn playing the part that is an old lady like me. No matter what Dr. Zarem was doing to my face, as long as I was conscious I kept this vision of a small stage set in my head. It seemed to me that I would again hear an audience laugh and laugh and then fall into that intense stillness that tells you they are really listening. 
In a small shop Louis and I found some cards made of prints of the Magritte painting of a man's head with huge green apple blotting out the face. The way I felt. I used the cards for messages to people who wrote me or sent flowers. One was to Wally Reiss, the New York painter and art dealer. Soon after, I was told he had terminal cancer and just before he died he sent me a message. “Tell Renie she is one of the lucky ones — something can be done for her.” Whenever things became very dark, I would try to remember what Wally had said, to accept it as an obligation to hang in there.
After one of the most difficult of the operations, during which they could not keep me anesthetized, but could not stop what they were doing, I emerged kind of a heroine to all who were there. Later, Dr. Zarem said, “Irene, you are indestructible.” No, I wanted to say, no I'm not, but there's a little blue devil of an ego dancing up there beyond the surgical lights, saying act brave and you'll have them all fooled.
Act brave. It is a year since the grenade exploded in my face. The final operation, we hope, was done on the same day, March 6, as the first operation, only a full year later. I have walked this year of eight procedures (as they so euphemistically call surgery), sometimes bandaged, and though timid, able to go out of the house; other times with such monstrous grotesqueries composed of my own skin and bone attached precariously to my face that I wouldn't even sit in the garden for fear I might frighten the birds or the neighborhood cats.
I have a nose and a face. Not exactly what I'd had before, but not frightening. I am nervous when facing friends, but fairly easy with strangers. I can trade stares with the neighborhood cats and I don't think any member of the ninth generation of blue jays in our garden is apt to mistake my nose for a peanut. But I once did.
I really did fear the sassy jays. Blue jays have a shifty sideways glance. They look at you, they see you, but they seem to have turned away, as though to fool you. There are people who do that, too, but for some reason I've always pitied rather than feared them. The jays I feared. I would go out to the garden and sit there for a few moments and there'd be a jay, slipping through the trees like a thief and settling nearby quiet, turned away, as though not noticing me at all. But that sideways glance was riveted on my nose which, at this point, was composed of another part of me attached to my face, but a large and bulbous arrangement that looked just like a peanut. I would leave the garden and sit on a small porch near a back door. In a moment, the thief was perched nearby, glancing sideways at my nose. I would speak to it, trying to explain, but it didn't move, all the while keeping one eye trained on it.
Now when they see me, the jays make their clickclack sound asking for peanuts. I give the peanuts to them real peanuts. My nose isn't much to look at, but it doesn't look like a peanut.
I love being old, I told Dr. Zarem, at the very beginning of all this. Love it. love the relaxed, wry, amused knowledge which comes to the old that so much, so very much is of no importance whatsoever. I think and read and ponder small and large matters in a clearer, less agonizing way than ever. I do believe that the things of my head are in better order than they ever were. But the body — aye, there's the rub. You have all this lovely acceptance, affection, forgiveness, but you don't always have the strength to put it to work. Wallace Stegner, I think, wrote something to the effect that to be old was to be someone very young with something wrong with him. Like cancer?
Together, Louis and I are beginning to live a more normal life. Someday will try to write about a beautiful old man, Louis Kamp, who has a very young, inquiring, curious and wildly humorous mind. Without him I could never have come this far. With him, have tried to develop some of the strong, forbearing, ever accepting character that he has shown throughout.
And we actually went to a crowded social event, an auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet out here to benefit Dr. Zarem's cancer research.
There is an area at the tip of the nose that has not healed; indeed, it has its own spitting anger of sorts. This may mean more surgery, but we go along in hopes that eventually it will clear up and heal. There are little pillows of flesh that are not very attractive, but they diminish slightly as the days go by, or I become more used to them. There is a kind of tidying up procedure that comes when all surgery is over, and I must wait a while for this.
I can never again wear my hair combed back off my forehead as there is an area of my scalp where no hair will ever grow again, and the mid-forehead has a deep dent in it. However, I've worn bangs off and on most of my life, so now I will wear them till the end. Without makeup my face is scarred and blotched, but this may clear up.
I have a face of sorts and a play of sorts.
I am back at the fair.
A version of this archives appears in print on September 9, 1979, on Page SM129 of the New York edition with the headline: Health; FACING A NEW FACE ‘When I was told I had cancer and that surgery would take off my nose, I was sure the only way I could deal with it was to kill myself.’


This below is a photo of Renie interviewing Danny Kaye while she was at Cue Magazine: 



And this is Louie's inscription in purple marking pen from the back of the photo:






When Renie died, Louie began sending things in large mailing envelopes to both my mother and sister out in Long Island, and to myself and my two daughters. They were fascinating things pertaining to our common family history, which Louie knew we would appreciate. I think Renie found interesting family history information when she wrote her play, The Great Indoors, and also the screenplay for The Beguiled, because her grandfather (my great-grandfather) was a Union soldier in the Civil War, and his wife was Granny Kittle who grew up in North Carolina, the very wonderful grandmother who helped raise Renie and her sisters (and the young man who was my father.)  

Among the things that Louie sent us were photos like this above, and some wonderful notes and information about themselves, all revelatory of the intelligence and humor and creative inventiveness of these two people. 

Will post more pictures up ahead, but also note there is an earlier post on this blog, dated 12/2/2013, that is also about Renie and Louie, and is titled: "EVERYTHING...and its Opposite", a favorite concept of Renie's.




Friday, January 11, 2019

Why I Love Writing...and Proofreading


Notes pertaining to my enjoyment of... and desire to do more of...the above


I am the great-granddaughter of a man described as both "the dean of proofreaders" and "a walking encyclopedia". His name was Samuel Rutan, and he was the typographer at a newspaper in New York City called The New York World. Wikipedia says "The New York World was a newspaper published in New York City from 1860 until 1931, and played a major role in the history of American newspapers. It was a leading national voice of the Democratic Party." My father told me his grandfather had three favorite books: the dictionary, the Bible, and Aesop's Fables (from the latter of which he used to read to Dad.)


I grew up in a family that loved reading. Both my parents were born in the early years of the 20th century, one in 1902, the other in 1906, and both were unable to afford college and went to work shortly after high school. It was the early part of the Depression. My mother passionately wanted to attend Cornell University where her best friends were enrolling as freshmen. Her father, Louis Fleming, was an excellent book illustrator who also did magnificent lettering for books and advertisements, but his income was always freelance during all the years my mother and her brother and sister were growing up. (Papa enjoyed what he did but it still was a wonderful thing that happened when later in life, at age 50, he became Art Director for Conde Nast Press and Harpers' Bazaar,  where he continued until he retired at 76.) During those early years, Papa had some wonderful clients, including Mohonk Mountain House, for whom he did, for years, all their printed matter: brochures, menu covers and other suchlike. I have pictures (black and white, no color photography then) of Papa and my grandmother visiting up there in New Paltz every year for him to sketch and take photographs for the illustrations he would do at home on his drawing table in Freeport.  The first image here is one of the Mohonk illustrations; the second one was done for Texaco.








So my mother, when she finished high school, Cornell and other colleges inaccessible, enrolled in a free teachers' training school in Queens, and after two years, began teaching at a grammar school in Springfield Gardens in Queens. In high school she had written poetry, and had thought of becoming a journalist, and would have dearly loved to go to Cornell, but in the long run, she was the essence of a self-educated person. Reading always, and as I particularly remember, not only doing the NY Times crossword puzzle every Sunday but also the Saturday Review of Literature puzzle, which appeared in that magazine monthly but which was a highly complicated one with not only the customary crossword box array at the top but another linked puzzle below. And the words that ended up filling the completed puzzle above were quotes from a well-known author whose name would be spelled out in the puzzle below as well as the piece of writing the quote came from. Mom and her sister Connie, my wonderful aunt, would conquer the complexities of this sophisticated puzzle and compare notes about them when Connie would visit us. Weekly trips to the library to reserve books were part of my growing up.  My father also went to work directly from high school at age 18 at a brand new company in those years: the New York Telephone Company. With another couple of young men at his job, he drove every night after work to Pratt Institute's School of Engineering in Brooklyn, where he received a certificate in electrical engineering. Dad was very smart and capable.  He was also a terribly nice person. His mother, before she died at the age of 43, told my mother that she had raised Leighton to be chivalrous toward women. When he was ill, in the few months before he died, he came out to the cab where the girls and I had traveled from the Long Island railroad station, and tried to carry our bags into the house. He was a hero of goodness and genuineness to me.

And as to my mother's self-educating nature, when my sister and I were kids, my mother frequented the little library in our town. It looked like a fairy tale house: brown shingled, white trim, and leaded glass windows. My sister and I would hang out in the children's department, choosing books, or playing with a dollhouse installed to entertain the kids, and Mom would be reserving books she had read about, later receiving postcards announcing their arrival at the library. She and Dad would read at night, when time permitted at the end of a day. Mom read a lot of things, but they both enjoyed rather good mysteries, which I myself do now as well. Mom also bought wonderful books for years and years, exceptional ones, which resulted in collections we each of us have in our homes, my daughters and myself. We so much appreciate her wonderful taste in books, and likewise, my aunt Connie's. During the Depression, Connie also went to work after a short business school course, first at one of the pulp magazines of the 1930s, Adventure Magazine, then on to her beloved long time job: Secretary and sole employee for the esteemed two-man literary agency: Russell & Volkening (Henry Volkening and Diarmuid Russell.) Connie also loved books. Both my mother and Connie were the biggest readers in our family. But I also want to mention that Mom, Dad, Connie, and all their siblings automatically had had Latin in their school days. And I fervently wish now I had had Latin as well.  I took French, as my sister had, which I quite liked, but now understand how germane Latin is for grasping all the underpinnings of the English language.

Finally, I have some other literary relatives: my father's sister, Renie, (Irene Kittle Kamp),  who, like Connie, worked at various jobs in New York City in the 1930s, becoming eventually a Drama Critic for Cue Magazine, Editor of Glamour Magazine, then Editor of Seventeen Magazine. And she also wrote a series of short stories in the 1950s for the Saturday Evening Post along with her husband, my uncle, Louis Kamp. They were a writing team, and I remember when we visited them where they lived in the summers in the 1950s, in Hampton Bays, NY, that they had part of the manuscript of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" printed in reverse, dark blue like a blueprint, which Louie had made into wallpaper in their bedroom. He was also a painter and made very nice small wood structures of boats out of wood scraps that he painted and posted over all the doorways. Renie wrote a lovely little short short story about him, when they first had met and were to meet in New York City at some prearranged place, and what happened when he first didn't turn up, and then when he did.  Titled "Just Remember That, The Short Short Story", it appeared in Colliers Weekly, May 4, 1946. (It can be read on The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection, Content Archive of Printed Periodicals and Books.)

Renie went on to become a screenwriter for movies including "Paris Blues", "The Lion", and "The Beguiled". And she wrote a play that was produced on Broadway in 1966, "The Great Indoors," It did not stay open for long, but my family and I were happy to have attended the opening night. She and Louie both wrote plays over the years, of which I have a few manuscripts which Louie sent us when Renie died. I have many fascinating letters each of them wrote to us in the family. And to go back to my first paragraph above, it was in one of those letters Renie wrote to Mom and Dad that she said Samuel Rutan was described as "a walking encyclopedia."

So this above is about my family background, but as to my own experience with writing:

I had a very interesting long-running job when I lived in New York City, which was to work for Hannelore Hahn, the founder and director of the International Women's Writing Guild. Hannelore also published an award-winning memoir about her childhood in Dresden, Germany, prior to World War II, "On the Way to Feed the Swans."  It was while working for Hannelore and her small staff of people that I had done quite a bit of proofreading of the Guild's magazine: Network, which is how I developed such a love of it. The sense of clearing away anything that obscures the forward flow of thoughts from the page to the reader...that's how it seems to me, whether one is reading someone else's work or one's own.

Since moving to Connecticut, I have assisted some writers with memoirs, and another with a collection of short stories.  And something I particularly liked, having a strong interest in science and nature, was transcribing the interviews for two Scientific American television series: The Human Spark and Brains on Trial. The transcriptions were for the producers to use in editing the film, and as Alan Alda was the interviewer in each series, this was a great pleasure, as his questions and the scientists' responses were both fascinating, and not surprisingly, very funny at times. There were a great many of these transcripts to be done, and I often ended up working late at night, sometimes tired, but finding the subject matter so enlivening I was sorry when they ended.  

My interest in science/nature also stems from an earlier job: working for Fritz Kunz, the editor of a superb magazine called Main Currents in Modern Thought. I will add here a few titles of  remarkable articles that appeared in Main Currents over the years it was published, the titles alone giving an idea of the wonderful range of subject matter.

             The Method of Science and the Meaning of Reality, by Henry Margenau
             The Enigma of Human Nature, by Gardner Murphy
             The Wedding of the World's Civilizations, by F. S. C. Northrop
             The Reality of the Non-Material, by F. L. Kunz      
             The Colors of Life, by Adolf Portmann

I love proofreading, and think maybe when I am doing it (and enjoying the process) my great-grandfather Samuel Rutan might be hovering over my shoulder...I hope so.  But I hadn't known much about his proofreading prowess until well grown up myself, so think it may be some familial inheritance that makes it so appealing. 

For proofreading, editing, or transcribing information, please email me at:
Aksellon@aol.com

The website where my artwork (paintings and drawings) can be seen:
Aksellon.com

And, on Instagram, a place where one can post images and words and communicate with some wonderful people all over the world in what one of these people calls "our global community":
@Aksellon 















Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My Favorite Place: The Metropolitan Museum Medieval Galleries





The image posted above was a drawing done in the Medieval Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It was done as I looked into one of the many lit glass cases of treasures there. It is what they call a roundel, quite small, made of Cloisonné enamel, with gold inlaid lines: the face of St. Pantaleimon, a doctor, a healer, and an inspiring figure in both the East and the West in the 4th Century, A.D. This is one of many beautiful findings in the Medieval gallery, where I have often gone to draw the images I've then painted at home.

The light was dim, the floor a soft amber tone where footsteps did not seem to sound...one enters the past and is greeted by eyes of great softness, eyes and faces carved into marble and limestone, filled with the best of human nature. One mother and child is matched by many another, where the child is confident and comfortable, held by a mother whose face reflects both determinations and caution. And always, between the mother and the child...a great tenderness.

I first felt enamored of these Medieval rooms and their inhabitants as a student at Pratt Institute, when we were sent there on a field trip to draw.  I walked right up to a glass case where resided the loveliest mother and child figure, about 14 inches high, of carved wood, with a coloring described as polychrome...it was so sweet, so perfect, so exceptional. The mother's head was tilted back with a gentle smile as she holds the baby up to look at him, and he is smiling back, and his little hand is under her chin...a tenderness such that I have gone back again and again to see it, as well as to bask in the wonderful humanity that seems to fill all the space.

(I will post a picture of this first-encountered polychrome madonna at the bottom of the post...both the photograph of this actual figure, as well as my decades-old chalk drawing of it.)

But to continue: all of the painted works and the sculptures of stone or wood exude a feeling of patience and forbearance, as though they had some knowledge that difficulties will abound but goodness and good people can redeem all. I think it seemed to them then, and seems to me now, to be something badly needed in a harsh and difficult time.

Here are some more of the Medieval galleries' inhabitants...some are photos from the Met's website, and some are my ink drawings and paintings inspired by them:









And now, my favorite of all the collection: a Madonna and child in lovely blue and red garments, which picture I recently found on the Met website. Below that is a photo of my own olive-green chalk drawing of it, done back in 1958 when I was freshman at Pratt Institute. As was customary in those days, we students carried large (18 x 24) newsprint pads everywhere we went on field trips, and this particular drawing is now hanging here in my living room, framed very kindly by my mother many years ago, which preserved it from disintegrating. The newsprint which once was creamy white has aged to a kind of soft brown but the image prevails and the tender gesture of the baby's hand under the mother's chin and their eyes softly regarding one another also remain.

So here is my favorite:





And here is the olive-green chalk drawing from that early-days trip to the Met Museum and its Medieval gallery...




And here's my signature at the bottom of the picture on now-amber-toned paper.





For anyone who might want to go and see it, here is how to find the "Devotional Statuette of the Virgin and Child" at the Met, and all the information about its origin in France:

Date:                                    ca. 1250-70
Geography:                          Made in Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Culture:                                French
Medium:                              Oak, modern paint
Dimensions:                        15 3/4 x 4 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches
Classification:                      Sculpture-Wood
Credit Line:                          Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:              17.190.725

It is on view at The Met Fifth Avenue, in Gallery 304





Friday, May 5, 2017

I Like To Draw In Ink...




When an art student at Pratt Institute, I used to buy a wonderful India Ink by Higgins called "Eternal Black", using it with old fashioned pens with removable nibs one dipped into the ink, messy yet yielding bold lines and a certain drama. The Eternal ink was exactly that: very profoundly black, yet it could provide a variety of washes - from softest cloud grey to the deep rounded shadows of the nighttime sky. But now I've come to love the Pigma pen, permanent ink, easily transportable, and ranging from size #005 (a very slender line) to the largest, the #8. With the ink source always black, I have also stayed with watercolor in small tubes, in early years always buying Winsor & Newton paint, now finding another favorite: Schminke. (I was pleased to read on Schminke's website that Oskar Kokoschka was a customer of theirs a century ago.) As to the colors I buy, it has always been Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue and Prussian Blue…from these four coming every possible permutation, this despite the large number of rare and special pigments, whose names often have an innate poetry about them: Naples Yellow, the "Lakes" (mauve-like colors said to be "fugitive", or susceptible to light), Burnt Sienna, and one bringing to mind the favorite red in many a Toulouse Lautrec painting: Vermilion. 


So with just my favorite four tubes, and a couple of Pigmas, I can travel forth on trains or a jaunt from my car to the harbor here in Branford, needing only a nice watercolor pad and some old and favorite brushes (Chinese brushes that are very simple yet with a kind of brush-intelligence about them) and I am completely happy, no need for easels or turpentine or canvasses, just the small world of a page that can hold a wide sea on it, or the stretching sky or a bunch of leaning tree branches.


Over the years, I've done many ink drawings, storing them in archival boxes so they are clean and pristine until the time when it feels as though a particular one could bloom forth with color. Then I take out watercolor tubes and my favorite Chinese brushes,  feeling a slight unease at the outset, like a cook about to do a familiar recipe but with some trepidation, and find myself enjoying what happens when water and paint encounter one another. Like a rhododendron bud holding its color within until time and warm weather release it, there seems color implicit in an image even while still black lines on paper. First, a sparkling mix of water and paint, then a fluxing as color swims in the water and starts to dry, taking on a shape not designated by me exactly but influenced by chance as the water dries. The result, then, is a surprise: something has “hatched.”  The artist, who thinks to be in control of the process, has collaborated with another creature entirely: nature!

 






More to come, of ink drawings and color thereon...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Department of the Absurd" and "Memorabilia"

This has to do with spell-check and the intervening "mind" of the computer which is ever trying to figure out what one is saying, or wants to say. But it also very much has to do with people talking to one another in letters: the results, all these years later, treasurable.

I was writing my daughter an email in which I said I'd found two such letters in my family history boxes, each written by a different aunt. One was sent to me by my Aunt Connie (actually a card, not a letter) and one was sent from my Aunt Renie to my mother. Each box in the stacks of boxes in my bedroom is titled with the names of different pairs of wedded couples going back in time, just a way to put interesting communications like these in some place where I know I can find them again.

The first is a card Connie sent me, in which she'd enclosed, typed on a piece of paper, a beautiful quote from George Eliot:

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away."

In the card, Connie said she was sending it to me as that's how she felt about me...it's not hard to think that I would say the same to her. When I was a little child, I didn't know that once I was a grownup I would see things very much the way she did. I'm going to type below another excellent quote I found written on a scrap of paper among Connie's photos, clippings of poetry from the New Yorker, etc., all of which I keep in the box called "Connie & Larry".

This quote is Ambrose Bierce:

"History is an account,
  mostly false,
  of events,
  mostly unimportant,
  which are brought
        about by rulers,
  mostly knaves,
  and soldiers,
  mostly fools."

I don't see it as saying the soldiers are fools, but the rulers and knaves, definitely!

I typed it here exactly as she had written it on the piece of paper, with the spacing intact...I love it!

Here's where the absurd comes in:   in the email to my daughter, I'd said "Also found a very nice letter Renie wrote to Mom!"  But spellcheck changed "Renie" to "Renoir"!

In a minute, will tell what Renie's note to Mom said...

But first wanted to mention three earlier posts with more about the two aunts, and the Family History boxes...go to the bottom of blog and click on Earlier Posts until you find these dates and titles:


1.   My Aunt Connie & Adventure Magazine                        May 25, 2013


2.   Family History                                                                June 23, 2013


3.   Everything and its Opposite...                                        December 2, 2013



After providing something from Renie's note to Mom (and maybe Renoir's as well)...I will post photos of Connie and Renie...both were about the same age. I also found a lovely note Connie wrote to her sister (my mother) of which I will enjoy providing some excerpts (it was written during WW II.) I note that people seemed to write lots of frequent quick notes to others, the same way people email and text now...the stamps were I think 1 cent or 2 cents...perhaps the telephone not used as lavishly as now. (One of Connie's notes to Mom said something about taking the train out to Merrick, our town, on the coming Saturday.)

I must say I wish this were my job: to write this blog...like painting/drawing, it's a great pleasure and must be reward enough...but still, one can dream!

More coming shortly...