History of Literature #86 – Don Juan in Literature (aka The Case of the Red-Hot Lover)

From his earliest days as a popular legend, through many appearances in drama and poetry and fiction and film, the sexual conquistador Don Juan has been the vehicle for authors and artists to wrestle with themes like sexual desire, guilt, honor, gender relations, and the psychology of an unrepentant sinner. Early versions of Don Juan condemned this profligate lover to hell, but as society’s views of morality evolved, so too did Don Juan, with some fascinating results. Host Jacke Wilson takes a look at the many faces of Don Juan, from the character’s earliest stage appearance in 1630 to the recent Jersey Boy incarnation in the film version Don Jon (2013), with stops along the way for Moliere, Mozart, Goldoni, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Malone from Cheers – and of course, the great “satiric epic” Don Juan, written by the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Lord Byron.

FREE GIFT! 

Write a review on iTunes (or another site), then send us an email at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com to receive your free History of Literature card as a thank you gift. Act now while supplies last!

Show Notes:  Continue reading

Advertisements

Cezanne’s Mystery Woman

still-life-with-bottle-and-apple-basket-1894

What does a genius painter reach for when drafting a love letter? Why, the back of one of his canvases, of course. Who has time to look for paper when you are this tormented by love?

I saw you, and you let me kiss you, from that moment I have had no peace from profound turmoil. You will forgive the liberty that a soul tormented by anxiety takes in writing to you. I do not know how to describe to you that liberty that you may find so great, but how could I remain oppressed by this dejection? Is it not better to give expression to an emotion than to conceal it?

It’s the painter’s only known love letter, written when Cezanne was 46. And we know nothing about the woman except her effect on Cezanne.

Maria Popova has more of the fragmentary story.

Image Credit: Still Life with Bottle and Apple Basket, Paul Cezanne (1894)

 

The Cladogram (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #27)

cladogram

I was a young father raising a toddler in New York City. I was also a broke, miserable student buried under an avalanche of student loans. In my filthy, sleep-deprived condition I suddenly remembered Thomas Hobbes’s description of life, which I’d read years earlier. What was the line? Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and…something else. Awful? Horrendous? Ridiculously terrible? Whatever. It all fit.

“Hobbes?” my wife said, shaking her head like someone watching a child board a roller coaster that will be too much for him. “Now you’ve got that in your head?” Continue reading

Thanksgiving Week 3: Life’s Sweet Partners

Oh, here we go! We’ve taken a look at the youth and the elders in my life (or at least the fictionalized version of it). How about Life’s Sweet Partner! Who else could travel through the world with Jacke at her side. That’s not easy!  Deserving of all my gratitude and then some.

I like the way the relationship is portrayed in my book The Race. But for the handful of you who do not own a copy of that massive runaway bestseller (sarcasm), here’s a free story. A ghost story of sorts, in which a very fictionalized significant other has a prominent role. (Really, when life is this absurd, it’s better not to go through it alone!)

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #22 – The Sound:

I fall asleep with my hand on my girlfriend’s hip. I awake with her hand squeezing my throat.

“Jesus!” I gasp after I finally pry her fingers from my neck. “What are you doing?”

She blinks, still in a fog, halfway between sleep and madness. “Huh? What…?” She shakes her head, coming awake. “Oh, sorry… ” she says. “I was dreaming that I was choking you to death.”

“Nice dream,” I say.

Her eyes drift shut. “It’s the SOUND…” she murmurs. “It’s making me…INSANE…”

I cannot blame her. My dreams are just as bad. Monkeys howling, trains derailing, slaughterhouses at night…

“One more day,” I say.

The sound is still there, encasing us. My throat tingles. With one hand I grip her arm; with the other I wrap my pillow around my head.

It does not matter. The sound pierces through.

 

The Offering (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #26)

staring-fox

And then something happened that changed everything.

I wish I could start the story that way, because that’s how it felt when it happened: startling, vivid, breathtakingly transformative. Even now it makes my heart race, the moment when I looked down and saw what I saw on our front porch, and the follow-up moment when I pulled the car out of the garage and saw what was there. But you can’t be jolted out of a world without there being a world to be jolted out of. That’s an awkward way of saying it, but I’m a storyteller, not an expert in metaphysics. Bear with me.

And then something happened that changed everything.

We’ll get to the something. But first, you have to know what the everything was.

#

We were renting a house on a cul-de-sac in northern Virginia. The purplest part of a purple state, in the section of territory that, viewed on a map, looks like it was carved out of D.C. Someone probably fought a war over this patch of land, once upon a time. Historic battlefields were everywhere, replaced now by highway interchanges and big-box stores. Progress marched along. Even decent old brick houses like ours were being torn down in favor of ersatz palaces with fake-stone facades, their walls rising up from the very edges of the small-sized lots.

One nice thing about living in a purple state was that my vote mattered. What was less nice was that my next-door neighbors put up an Obama sign and the kids who lived across the street shot it up with their BB guns.

We had left New York City so that our toddlers could play in a backyard. And now this? Young political activists? With guns?

I had not moved to the suburbs so my kids could be caught in the crossfire.

But we had signed a twelve-month lease, so what could we do? We settled in and kept the blinds pulled. Our kids could play in the backyard. Away from stray bullets.

Since we were renting, there were a few things we had to do to convert the house to something suitable for our family. We took down a hammock after it caused too many problems. (Hammocks are lovely for grownups. They can propel small children halfway across a backyard.) We drained the hot tub on the back deck out of similar safety concerns.

Inside, there was a pull-down ladder to the attic. I loved the attic: it was huge and roomy, and we could stash plenty of clutter up there. The one downside was that the owners had left a few things of their own: a metal rack holding some coats, a letter jacket, and a wedding dress in plastic, and four or five boxes of trophies and other knickknacks. I knew I should have been grateful that they had not left those things in the house itself. Instead I was irritated and tempted to throw it all out.

What were we paying for? Dammit, we were renting a house. We were not renting a storage unit.

It was an unreasonable position, but there it was. Those items were a reminder that we did not own this house, and I did not like how that made me feel.

It was frustrating, for example, that the owners had not trusted us with the remote control to the automatic garage door opener. Every time we entered or exited the garage, we had to park the car, get out, punch buttons on a key pad, and get back in the car. In rain. In snow. In wind. With the kids asleep. With the kids screaming. Every single time it was a pain, and every single time I thought about how temporary and transient our lives were.

Twenty addresses in twelve years. It’s one thing to live like that when you’re poor and living in dirty old apartments. The life of the struggling writer. Paycheck to paycheck, meal to meal, crummy surroundings, cold nights spent under the covers on a hand-me-down futon. It’s living! It’s living free! Hello, Bohemia! But this? Rent at this place was a sizable expenditure, and it was for a house, with a finished basement and a backyard. This was a place for grownups to live in.

And we were grownups, whether we liked it or not, because parents have to be. Granted, I was a baffled, confused parent, a father with no idea what fatherhood meant or how to handle it, with zero strategy other than the single tactic that as a 35-year-old man, I could present what seemed to small children like wisdom and authority. Eventually they would figure me out. For now, I faked being an adult. And it worked: faced with a three-year-old and a one-year-old who believed in me just as they believed in Santa, their optimism and expectations overcoming what was in front of their very eyes, I pulled off a great con, day after day after day. I bluffed them.

So then: a grownup I was, or appeared to be, most of the time. But this house did not make me feel like a grownup. It felt as if the real grownups – the ones with the stuff in the attic, and the ones in possession of the automatic garage door opener – had gone somewhere and left us in charge.

#

On a morning that spring I went to retrieve the kids, who were playing next door at the neighbors—the Obama-sign neighbors, not the camouflage-wearing junior soldiers of fortune. I left via our back door, walked across the deck, and headed for the gate that separated our two yards. Even from here I could admire their house, built to appear in Architectural Digest, which was literally the wife’s dream, or perhaps I should say vision. She had acquired two dogs, not because she wanted dogs particularly, but because their butterscotch coats matched the house and would look fantastic in the photo spread.

Her husband had told me this one day with a heavy sigh. I nodded as if I understood, but I felt like I was from another planet. Our house had two rooms that had no furniture at all, and a third that only had two beanbag chairs. Maybe Architectural Digest would have a Minimalist issue we could get in on.

I hopped down the steps and walked around the waterfall that no longer worked, hopefully through nothing my kids had done. And then, as I passed the back of the hot tub, I heard something strange. It sounded like growling.

I stopped in place, afraid to move until I heard what it was.

More growling. Like someone’s loud stomach, except more feral. It was an animal sound, there under our deck, behind the lattice woodwork.

Continue reading

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done? Fooled My Significant Other with a Fake Online Persona…

I’m getting some great responses to my request for “the worst thing you’ve ever done.” What I’m interested in exploring is not just the act itself, but the aftermath and the impact. Why does it seem like the worst? Why does it stick in your head?

A reader reports the following:

I was in a serious relationship for over a year when my significant other had to move across the county due to a family emergency. They didn’t know anyone there aside from family and decided to use social media to reach out.

Okay, sounds harmless. A family emergency? Who wouldn’t need a little social comfort?

By social media I mean they created a dating profile but insisted it was just for meeting new people and nothing else.

Hmm. I could see where this could cause some problems. A dating profile just for meeting new people? I would expect suspicion. Maybe jealousy. Maybe a complete lack of trust. On the other hand, this is someone dealing with a family emergency! A little slack seems to be in order.

How does one handle this? Our reader handled it this way:

Me, half way across the county alone and feeling insecure decided to test this idea of befriending on a social network. I created a fake account (using pictures I found online) and befriend my “significant other” and by befriended, I mean seduced. They didn’t give in, though their conversation was definitely questionable.

Oh no! It’s finding out your worst fears coming true…it’s awful, awful, awful when that happens. And then?

I stopped going on the site after a few months, it became difficult to balance as my partner often talked about their “new friend” and the guilt because overwhelming as I realized they really did have pure intentions.

Oh man, this is so painful! It’s those last nine words that kill me. That’s the dagger to the heart. I can just imagine how horrible that must have felt! We’ve all been there, right? Obsessed to the point of reckless behavior?

A friend of mine once called a girl and let the phone ring a few hundred times (this was an era when some phones didn’t have voice mail or answering machines), thinking that she would get home, hear the phone ringing, and pick up immediately. He wanted to talk to her as soon as possible! Later he learned that she and her friends were sitting outside at the pool, listening to the phone ring and wondering what kind of creepy idiot would let the phone ring for that long. She recounted the story to him and he sat there pretending to be shocked, terrified that somehow she’d trace it back to him.

Back to our confession! Here’s the reader’s self-analysis:

I think about this often because it refers to a state of mind I never want to find myself in again. The amount of insecurity I possessed at the time is sickening and the things I did because of the insecurities is inexcusable.

In case you’re wondering, at some point I did tell my significant other that I was in fact, their long lost friend. It didn’t go over too well…

That must have been terrible! On the other hand, it was probably the right thing to do. It was certainly brave. I admire the reader for confessing, which I’m not sure I could have done. My phone-calling friend certainly never did.

This topic fascinates me. I’m planning to devote the next episode of my podcast to it – what we choose as the worst things we’ve ever done, and why we choose them. I’m not looking for horrible crimes here. I’m looking for things that even normal, healthy, law-abiding citizens carry around in their minds, thinking back on their behavior and cringing.

So let’s hear it, people! Tell us your secrets, either in the comments section or email me at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com. Anonymity – and a sympathetic ear – are guaranteed.

Special thank you to the reader who submitted this entry. I found the story brimming with tenderness and humanity and courage. Take heart: what you did is perfectly understandable, you learned from the experience, and it sounds like you’re in a much better place now. Life is hard, and being a human being is often a terrible ordeal. Together we all make it through (somehow)!

Camus on Love

What a great idea! The always excellent Maria Popova has teamed up with the talented Wendy McNaughton to produce a print based on the notebooks of Camus. Now you can have Albert and his thoughts on love gracing your wall:

 

Could this get any better? It can! 50% of the proceeds will be going toward A Room of Her Own, a foundation supporting women artists and writers. Awesome.