You Do Indeed Turn Me On, Baby

Happy Saturday, gang. Wherever you are!

The photo above is a photo of Cleveland in 1960. A Rexall Drug Store. I don’t know this particular Rexall store but it’s what Cleveland neighborhoods looked like, in general, when I was born and then got adopted by a couple who lived up there.

(My birth parents were from southwestern, rural Ohio – a world that could not have been more different from Cleveland, especially back then. Cleveland was an intensely urban melting pot of European immigrants, with a lot of racial tensions between blacks & whites beginning to bubble up in the early 1960s. Cleveland was also hugely influenced by the Arts — museums, theater, music, movies.)

There is a new segment posted at In the Shadow of Narcissa, my memoir-in-progress about my early childhood, specifically about my being raised by an adoptive mother with a narcissist disorder (told from the perspective of me as a child). Hence, the Cleveland stuff here today.

I can’t linger too long on the blog today because I am indeed working over the phone with Peitor later this morning, getting back on track with our current project for Abstract Absurdity Productions, after a  3-week hiatus.

I’m exhausted today. I know it’s all entirely emotional stuff. So I’m hoping it will clear by the time Peitor calls me.

Part of it is a personal thing, a relationship thing from the past that popped up this week, making me have to look at stuff, to make choices, making me feel old.

Most of it, though, comes from writing the Narcissa segments. Even though each segment is very short, it takes a lot out of me. Such an intense focus on a period in my life that was both truly beautiful and truly awful.

(This was in the very early years of my life, before my mother sort of completely unraveled and life swung way out of balance and was simply truly awful, every day. I want the memoir to capture only those early years in Cleveland — the first 11 years of my life, when my mother progressively got worse. And, culturally, it coincided with the 60s itself unfolding, so all around us, the country was changing like crazy. And it certainly affected our home. I also know now that my dad was starting to have affairs. I did not know anything about this at that point in Cleveland, but my mother must have known, because it coincided with her starting to go just completely nuts and over-the-top enraged and unmanageable.)

Oddly enough, in a part of my childhood that extends beyond what I want to write about in Narcissa — when I was 12 and we were gone from Cleveland and I believe that my mother thought her marriage was back on track — at that point, the summer I was 12, I accidentally discovered that my dad was having an affair. I didn’t tell anyone. And to be honest, I was very, very happy for him. I still really liked my dad at that point, and I was glad for him that he had a way to be free of my mother.

The following summer, when I was 13, he came into my room one afternoon to tell me he was leaving us, that they were getting divorced. I told him I was really happy for him. He was stunned, you know? “You’re happy for me?” I didn’t tell him I knew he was having an affair, or that I knew her name was Linda and that she lived in Cincinnati and that I knew her home phone number… I said, “Yeah, you get to get out of here.”

At that point, we were upper middle class and had a really beautiful home — and every square inch of it was filled with a palpable aura of ugly, awful, nasty, mean, horribleness. It truly was. My mother was absolutely out of control.

My dad said later that, had he realized she had a mental illness, he would never have left us with her. But even at 13, I knew that when my dad left us, there would be no buffer at all between me and my mother, and I knew there was no direction left in that house but for me to go down, down, down. Which I, of course, did.

After my dad left, he became all about money. It was absolutely all he cared about — making millions, which he did. And if you didn’t care about his money — which I didn’t, I didn’t care about it at all — then he had no use for you, really.

I have nothing at all against money — even great big piles of money. I don’t see anything wrong with people being rich. I think money’s great. But it’s not what I live for and never has been.

For some reason, for me, it has always been about expressing myself.  I don’t know why it is so important to me to get certain things out of my head and onto paper — into the concrete physical reality. For me, it has always been imperative that I do this before I transition back over to the nonphysical “other” side.  To the point that, now, as I’m aging, I sort my many, many projects into mental stacks:

Will I be okay if I die and this project is not finished? Yes.  So then it goes to the back burner.

Will I be okay if I die and this project is not finished? No. So then I spend every waking hour trying to get it out of me and into the world.

I try to figure out how love figures into that, because I have always been that way about expressing myself — writing, specifically. To the point where it’s been impossible for me to sustain relationships if the person won’t give me just tons and tons of personal space. Quiet space.  Because I’ve got to write.

In New York City, that meant “give me a room I can go to that has a door I can close.” If you’ve ever lived in Manhattan, you know that a separate room with an actual door is not always an easy thing to get in a city apartment. For me, it was very Virginia Woolfe and A Room of One’s Own. A woman will thrive if she has a room of her own that she can go to and close the door.

Yet, I love people, dearly. I feel love intensely. If I love someone, there is no escaping it for me. It overwhelms me in the most beautiful ways. It makes life worth living. And I want all the sex stuff, too — the eroticism of it. And all the beauty of that.

But then it’s also me, saying: “Um, do you think you could go do something now? Because I gotta be alone here.” And that part rarely goes over very well.

For reasons related to the past relationship mentioned above, I got out Joni Mitchell’s Greatest Hits and was playing that in the kitchen yesterday. I’m not a huge Joni Mitchell fan, but I do love a lot of her stuff. And my favorite song of hers is “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio.”

When it came on the CD player in the kitchen yesterday, it was clear that I still loved that song very much because I didn’t want to stop playing it. It was a hit when I was in Jr. High School, and even though I was too young to truly understand it– from my own experience — yet. I viscerally understood it. To me, it was the only love song that ever made sense.

I’m not talking about the sad love songs, when your heart is broken. I’m talking about a true love song — I love you, and this is why, and this is who I am.

“You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” is saying: I love you, and I am so happy that you have a life of your own that you can really enjoy living and when you get that need to see me, baby, come on by. Meaning: give me a head’s up and I’ll stop writing & I’ll make time for you. Because I love you and I would like nothing better than to be with you. For a little while…

Okay, gang! I’m outta here!! Thanks for visiting. I love you. See ya!!

“You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio”

If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love youOh honey you turn me on
I’m a radio
I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
Waving for you
Broadcasting tower
Waving for you

And I’m sending you out
This signal here
I hope you can pick it up
Loud and clear
I know you don’t like weak women
You get bored so quick
And you don’t like strong women
‘Cause they’re hip to your tricks

It’s been dirty for dirty
Down the line
But you know
I come when you whistle
When you’re loving and kind

But if you’ve got too many doubts
If there’s no good reception for me
Then tune me out, ’cause honey
Who needs the static
It hurts the head
And you wind up cracking
And the day goes dismal

From “Breakfast Barney”
To the sign-off prayer
What a sorry face you get to wear
I’m going to tell you again now
If you’re still listening there

If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love you

If you’re lying on the beach
With the transistor going
Kick off the sandflies honey
The love’s still flowing
If your head says forget it
But your heart’s still smoking
Call me at the station
The lines are open

©  1972 Joni Mitchell

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