Celebrity Sightings, 1908

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Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 3, 1908. From ChroniclingAmerica.gov

The date?   March 3, 1908, the day after Mardi Gras.
The place?  The private dining room in the The Osceola Club, Pensacola, Florida
The occasion/connection? Good question. This is another oddball jigsaw puzzle in the life of Emmett Wilson that I like to work out.

Not to sound disparaging of anyone sitting around that dinner table at The Osecola Club, but if I had to rank the attendees in terms of celebrity, it would be as follows:

  • Foster
  • Crawford
  • Harris
  • Wilson

The connection between Emmett and William Bloxham (“Billy”) Crawford is immediately obvious. Emmett and Billy were college friends, roommates and classmates at West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) and at Stetson University’s law school.

You may recall from an earlier post that Billy Crawford was also the business manager at the Stetson University student newspaper, The Stetson Weekly Collegiate. (Undoubtedly, Billy was the one who frequently supplied news bits about his roommate, Emmett, to the student paper during their tenure at Stetson.)

“He failed utterly.” This is something Crawford would have published about Emmett for fun! Source: The Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Dec. 5, 1903.

Because Crawford was in the publishing business, it would make sense that he would meet, wine, and dine other professional and prominent writers who visited Pensacola. Crawford was prominent, not only in local social and professional circles, but also in political circles, as the son of H. Clay Crawford, Florida’s Secretary of State from 1902 to 1929. Young Billy had three things Emmett coveted all his life: Connections, access, and entree. True, Emmett hung out with Billy because it improved his ‘face value’ in Pensacola society, but it was also true that Emmett and Billy were honest-to-God friends.

Maximilian Foster. Passport photo from 1918, via Ancestry.com

Maximillian Foster was a big deal, a ‘get’ as one would say in the journalism world. He was a well-known playwright and author, whose articles appeared regularly in many popular national magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Everybody’s magazines. (You can read past copies of these magazines in Google Books, by the way.) One of his most well-known books, “Rich Man, Poor Man”, not to be confused with a different book of the same name, published in 1969 by Irwin Shaw, was eventually made into a (silent) movie. (You can read the book via Google Books at the link above. It’s a quick read; an early 20th Century version of chick lit. But I digress.)

Evelyn Harris. Source: Find-a-grave.com

Evelyn Harris was a son of the author Joel Chandler Harris, of Uncle Remus fame. On March 3, 1908, Evelyn was a marketing and advertising executive with the Southern Bell Telephone company in Atlanta.

Evelyn Harris did not have a distinguished literary career as did his father, although he wrote a booklet titled, “A Little Story about my mother, Esther LaRose Harris” in 1949. (It is in the archive at Georgia State University and Agnes Scott College.) The story behind that 65-page booklet is that Harris wrote it for his grand nieces and nephews — he and his wife Annie Louise Hawkins Harris never had children.

As facilitator of this fancy men’s dinner, I could see Billy Crawford putting Foster and Joel Chandler Harris’ son together; the senior Harris had recently launched a popular magazine, Uncle Remus’ Home Magazine, and perhaps Evelyn Harris shared interesting anecdotes about his father’s career. Alas, it would have been unlikely that Joel Chandler Harris himself would have attended this dinner: He was in poor health due to acute nephritis and complications from cirrhosis — alcoholism. He died exactly four months later, on July 3, 1908.

The date on the article about the dinner is important. The day before, March 2, 1908, Emmett was a gentleman-in-waiting in Pensacola’s Mardi Gras court. This was a huge society coup for the women mostly, but in truth, anyone who was invited to serve in the royal court of, basically, the most important social event of the year had made it, socially and politically. By now, Emmett’s political and social star was on the rise.

But the dinner article doesn’t state when the event took place. Likely it wasn’t on March 2; Emmett would have been too busy in the day-and-night-long social activities to attend a fancy dinner with a famous playwright and author.

Based on other news items about Foster and Harris in The Pensacola Journal, we can guestimate when the men were actually in town, and the date that the fancy dinner probably took place. I’d say it was likely held on March 1:

Foster is in Pensacola as of January 19. The Rev. Whaley was pastor of Christ Episcopal Church, which was Emmett’s church. Foster was on a lengthy visit in Pensacola.

Evelyn Harris is in Pensacola as of March 1 — because he didn’t work for himself, as Foster did per se, likely he wasn’t in Pensacola on a lengthy visit. Perhaps the dinner took place on March 1 or March 2. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov.

 

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The Miracle

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On Saturday morning, I said goodbye to a dear friend.

My dear friend, Michelle.

You’d have liked Michelle. She was a pistol. She was someone who lived life like a loose garment — she had poise, humor, smarts. She also had a way of getting right the point, of saying the right thing at the right time, when it mattered.

And, she was my friend.

I met Michelle 10 years ago at the 10:30 a.m. women’s meeting here in Washington, at the Del Ray Club. I was only a few week’s sober, bitchy, mad at the world because I felt broken and less-than, being unable to drink and escape everyday problems and life like a ‘normal’ person. I went to this meeting because my temporary sponsor told me to go, and while I was there, to just sit and listen, because I might lose the chip off my shoulder and learn something for a change.

I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t like women’s meetings in the early days of my sobriety, because it seemed like these meetings mostly involved folks dumping about their terrible week, or complaining about whatever drama was going on in their lives, and I didn’t identify in to anything they were talking about. I’d never had a DUI. I’d never done drugs. I’d never been fired from a job because of drinking, and I smugly didn’t think I had a problem.

These other gals, though? They had a lot of problems.

But not me.

I left the room, and before I made it out the door, this short redheaded gal with a black motorcycle-style jacket had followed me. She touched me on the arm, and asked where I was going. I told her I was going home.

“Why?”

I told her I wasn’t getting anything out of the meeting.

“Yeah. Me neither. Come on, let’s get some coffee.”

At a nearby coffee shop, we sat outside together, and I didn’t say much. I didn’t want to. In fact, I sat there fuming and irritated for the first five or 10 minutes. But Michelle had a way with people; and before I knew it, I was telling her about my last drink a few weeks earlier.

And that I missed drinking.

And that I felt like nobody understood that I felt as if I was falling apart inside, because I had no coping skills to deal with stress, or anger, or boredom. Because I would drink to deal with all of those problems, and I knew if I picked up again, I’d probably be dead in a year or so.

She nodded. “I get it.”

Do you? I asked.

Then, she told me her story — she was a CPA who owned her own business, but it wasn’t always like that. She wanted to be successful, but every time she felt pressure to perform, she’d have to take a drink, just to calm her nerves.

“For awhile that worked. For years,” she said, “or so I thought. Eventually, it just became easy, routine, to take a drink whenever I felt even the least little bit of unease, or discomfort. And then, one day, I realized I craved it, round the clock. I’d do anything for a drink. Including sacrifice my clients, my practice, my family. Nothing was more important than my feeling better.

“I drank to feel better,” she said.

So did I, I said.

At the end of our coffee meeting, she game me her number.

“Call me. And keep coming back to the meetings, OK? You’ll sometimes encounter a dud meeting, like today, but don’t judge the program by that one meeting. Because I don’t want to leave  before the miracle happens.”

What miracle? I asked.

“Wait and see.”

Michelle and I would go out and get coffee every now and then, and I saw her regularly at one or two meetings a week. Eventually, we became good friends.

===

Last year, I switched to a new home group that was closer to my work, and had better parking (a big deal here in Washington). I didn’t see Michelle that often because my new home group wasn’t close to her, but we stayed in touch now and then by email and phone.

Then, summer came; everyone went on vacation, I shlepped kids to camps all week long, we went to different meetings, and we fell out of touch.

And then, two weeks ago, a friend sent me an email that Michelle had died. It happened quickly.

Apparently, Michelle had COPD for years (which I didn’t know). She went in for a doctor’s visit in late August, and learned that the disease had progressed rapidly. In typical Michelle fashion, she asked the doctor straight out about her prognosis; he told her she’d be gone by the end of September.

Also, in typical Michelle fashion, she got to work. She paid her taxes for 2017. She planned her own funeral Mass. She got all of her ducks in order. Everyone who was with her at the end said Michelle wasn’t afraid of death. She told everyone she’d lived a good life, she was blessed with a wonderful family and friends, and that every day she’d had on Earth was a miracle.

Michelle went into hospice in the middle of September; she died on September 21, peacefully, in no pain, in full grace.

===

Michele modeled, for me, a way of life that I wanted to emulate. I feel blessed that God put her in my path, to show me the way. I also feel blessed to be an alcoholic, because if I weren’t, I’d never have had the privilege to be Michelle’s friend.

And that, my friends, was — is — the miracle.

I’m going to miss Michelle.

“…to accept the things I cannot change…”

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Two weeks ago, the realization that it was time to accept things I cannot change arrived at the door, around 11:15, courtesy of our mail carrier Jesse, of the United States Postal Service.

 

 

My dear friend Nancy’s cousin had written earlier that week, asking for my address, because Nancy had gifts for me.

Christmas gifts.

This was unexpected: Nancy was still in the hospital a few days before Christmas without any discharge date in sight. Also, she and I had a deal where we didn’t exchange Christmas gifts. Just corny holiday cards. Thing was, I didn’t know Nancy’s condition was precarious. Had I known, I would have gone to visit her, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I said as much to her cousin.

“Nancy was an extremely private person. She didn’t want anyone to know. You were on her mind even as she was failing,” she wrote to me. “She wanted you to stay strong and she was proud of your accomplishments.”

The box arrived.

The box sat on my desk for several days.

Now, I admit, I haven’t completely processed Nancy’s death, and I don’t expect to ‘process’ Nancy out of my life, ever. I’ve grieved on and off outwardly, but I’ve put her death aside mostly because I don’t like to wallow in sadness. I’ve come to understand the addictive nature of my personality. I would latch onto that grief; use it as a way to defer action on Emmett’s book, for example, or to hide behind it as an excuse to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day. I know Nancy wouldn’t like that one bit. She’d give me holy hell for shelving Emmett, and/or for using her death as a crutch to not get on living life, to not face life on life’s terms.

So, why delay opening the box?

If I opened it, it meant I was acknowledging she was gone, that life continues on, even though she’s not physically there.

I miss Nancy. I miss talking to her. I miss her counsel and her god-awful jokes, and her nutty sense of humor, and her abrupt, direct way of telling me that I could do better with a certain paragraph, or section of Emmett’s story. She got me and I got her. We were friends.

Yesterday, I opened the box.

 

Three things — the first was the Mississippi State University official cowbell that I sent her for her birthday last October. Nancy had come to love my alma mater’s often inconsistent football team. She’d watch the games on Saturday afternoon, and ring the cowbell, surprised and delighted at how loud and deafening it was!

Nancy’s cowbell will hold a special place in my office, next to my own old, beat-up cowbell that I was given during my Freshman year decades ago; both will definitely get used!

The long blue box held a pewter house blessing, that reminded me of another dear friend of mine who died a few years back, Chris.

I meet Chris in the rooms of AA. He was one of the first people who saw the emotionally fragile, spiritually brittle person I was in the early days of recovery. I remember telling Nancy that whenever I saw Chris and asked how he was doing, he’d always say, “I’m blessed.” When I first met him and he said that to me, my first reaction was to take his inventory — to judge him. This guy was a nut, I thought.

And then, I slowly got to know Chris. I realized he truly was blessed, and lived his life like a loose garment. He was sober, serene. Unfettered.

I wanted what he had. And because Chris saw through the facade I put up when attending those early meetings, and extended the hand of friendship, things got better.

Finally, there was this.

Nancy knew well how difficult it has been to conduct Emmett’s research, then find a way to tell his story.

There have been days when I just wanted to (and did) say to hell with Emmett and his story. I questioned both my sanity and the purpose of doing a project on a long-dead, obscure man who drank himself to death. Why bother, I remember asking Nancy a long time ago, when I was going through a particularly frustrating period in Emmett’s research?

“Because his life was relevant. His life had meaning, and a message. And because he picked you to tell his story,” she’d said, in an email message to me. “It’s worth it. I think you know that, too.”

Indeed, one of the most precious gifts I’ve received from doing Emmett’s story is friendship. I’d never have had the privilege of becoming friends with Nancy if it weren’t for Emmett.

Emmett’s story has definitely been worth it so far. And I will see it through.

He Holds Desperately

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“By nature touchy and suspicious, the alcoholic likes to be left alone to work out his puzzle, and he has a convenient way of ignoring the tragedy which he inflicts meanwhile upon those who are close to him. He holds desperately to a conviction that, although he has not been able to handle alcohol in the past, he will ultimately succeed in becoming a controlled drinker. One of medicine’s queerest animals, he is, as often as not, an acutely intelligent person. He fences with professional men and relatives who attempt to aid him and he gets a perverse satisfaction out of tripping them up in argument.”

Jack Alexander (1903-1975)
[John Hollis Alexander]
Saturday Evening Post, March 1, 1941,”Alcoholics Anonymous”

“Mega-talented, but self-destructive”

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My friend, the wonderful Sue Tindel, of the Jackson County (Florida) Circuit Clerk’s Office, used the title of today’s post to describe someone she knew once, who ironically, was also an alcoholic (but in recovery).

The person she was describing was also, ironically, the same age as Emmett when he died of said disease.

I like this description, as I think it really sums up Emmett’s character. Emmett was an extremely talented, blessed, fortunate individual. Some newspapers (specifically, The Pensacola Journal), called him “brilliant.” Emmett had everything going for him.

And yet, his tragic character flaw was that he was self-destructive.

He had opportunities literally given to him; opportunities attached to money, prestige, fame, fortune, all of the things he wanted desperately while he was slogging away at the telegraph key as a teenager, and in law school, working his way through.

It is frustrating, sometimes, as I look back over the notes and the outline of the book. You can see the train wreck before it happens with Emmett!  Of course, it is easy to recognize problems 100 years after they’ve happened, but I have to believe that his close friends and advisors saw (at least) some of the warning signs with Emmett before they became full-blown crises. Emmett had some good advisors; he had some crummy ones, as well; maybe that was part of his self-destructive nature, in that he chose badly.

See, here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about Emmett:

He was an entirely logical thinker when it came to his work and his career. He wouldn’t let anything or anyone distract him from his main goal in life: The Florida Supreme Court bench. If it (a personal connection, a law case, a social event) would further his career, he would go for it.

Once he set a goal for himself, he threw himself into that goal, mastered the project or case, and then — and this is the odd part about Emmett — got bored with it. Next, he’d detach himself from it — mentally if not physically.

True, he understood that everything he was doing along he way was simply a set of milestones on the way to the Florida Supreme Court bench. But it seems like he couldn’t tap into the psychological stamina and patience to bear it (even when the going got boring), to find a way to enjoy it, make it his own without an external stimulant.

===

Was Emmett Wilson ‘brilliant’?

No. (Sorry, Emmett.)

If Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have had more emotional/psychological maturity. Some of this wasn’t exactly Emmett’s fault: He was, according to several sources, being pushed up the political ladder faster and at a younger age than anyone before (for example, he was the youngest District Attorney in the United States in 1907), and, it was also reported, before he was ready. Emmett wasn’t quite ready, but he was listening to the crummy advisors, and doing their bidding.

If Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have seen this, too. He’d have seen that he was being pushed beyond his experience and education.

I think Emmett did see this, now and then; that he had moments of clarity with regard to the heights he’d climbed politically, socially, professionally, with not much of a safety net beneath him, other than whoever it was manipulating the puppet strings of his life. Those moments of clarity scared the hell out him.

If he screwed up, there would be definitely be hell to pay, and his dream of occupying the same bench as his revered grandfather, would be dashed.

Emmett had the talent, definitely; he could do the work he was given. But he was mostly acting the part he was assigned.

Emmett was also, most definitely, mega-talented. He could play the role he was given; he was a good lawyer.

He wasn’t brilliant.

But he was definitely self-destructive.

In Praise of Sponsorship

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As of April 27, I will have 10 years’ sobriety in AA.

Putting down the drink was the easy part of getting sober. Keeping away from the damn drink was the hard part — and I surely would not have accumulated this much time, one day at at time, unless I had some help.

But I’ve always balked at accepting help. I’m self-reliant, and I’ve always prided myself on being able to take care of myself. Looking back, I realize that was probably how I was able to survive growing up in an alcoholic household — but now, as a recovering person — I’ve come to understand that self-reliance; i.e., my best thinking, is what got me into AA in the first place.

Four months into AA, I found a sponsor. She was tough as hell on me. She told me if I was really serious about sobering up, and realize the benefits of The Promises, I’d have to follow her directions.

The AA Promises. From pages 83-84 of Alcoholics Anonymous’ big book. They do come true.

The self-reliant alcoholic in me resented another person telling me what to do. I resisted, but I also knew, deep down, that I needed accountability and structure in order to kick this disease, and my sponsor was my best chance to do that. I’d tried to sober up twice before — nothing else had worked.

I did what she said. I didn’t always want to call her every day to tell her what was going on. I didn’t always want to go to a meeting every day. I didn’t want to pray every day, especially for people in my office who I didn’t get along with, or the person who cut me off on the Beltway, or the idiot in the grocery checkout line who decides to pay with a check when I’m in such a hurry to get back to my so-important life!

But I did it anyway.

And it has made all the difference.

Are my problems *poof* gone thanks to sobriety? No.

But my life is manageable.

I still have problems with people in my office, but, thanks to the AA program, I feel more compassionate towards them. It has made a difference in my attitude and the way they act towards me.

People still cut me off on the Beltway, but maybe that person has had a terrible day, or is truly in a hurry to get to the hospital or somewhere else to help a loved one.

I realize I’m powerless over other people, places, and things. But, I do have power over my reaction to other people, places, and things.

And I sure as hell could not have arrived at any of this on my own — only through the help of a good sponsor.

====

Because I think that sponsorship works so well with my alcoholism, I decided to get a writing sponsor. I didn’t set out to ‘find’ one; this relationship evolved naturally.

You probably knew my first one — my dear friend Nancy. I used to talk to her almost every day about Emmett and the book, and the research. Our conversations were wonderful. I could talk to her about what I found about Emmett in the research, or about how I interpreted Emmett’s relationships with his family, for example, and she’d give me great feedback. It was clarifying and encouraging. Nancy knew my entire story, especially the AA part.

Jacki, myself, Nancy. History detective gals.

Eventually, I told Nancy that I considered her my ‘writing sponsor’, and she said she was honored that I thought of her that way — and voila, our writing sponsorship was born.

It wasn’t a one way relationship, either: Nancy also had writing and research projects underway, and she’d talk to me about them. We’d discuss research databases, research libraries, the best ways to interview reluctant sources, how to catalog articles — you get the picture. We were a team.

And when Nancy died this past January, I was devastated. I felt as if I lost a family member. I’ve really missed Nancy. It has been hard to keep up the writing and research with as much enthusiasm since she died.

But I think Nancy would have been really p-o’d if I wallowed in sadness and the listlessness I’ve felt since she died in January. She would have come up here from Florida and kicked my ass over it; no lie. Nancy would tell me, directly, to get a grip. Find a damn writing sponsor. I need one. She’s right, of course.

As of this weekend, I have a new writing sponsor.

I feel like my Emmett Wilson writing program is back on track.

Things are looking up.

Thanks to my sponsors.

 

Journaling & Self-Editing Finds

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I’ve been posting less on Emmett’s blog this month because I’m working on Emmett Wilson-related articles to submit to two publications:

lpr

I met the representatives of the Little Patuxent Review literary journal when I was at the AWP Conference two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, they told me to submit my article.  The deadline is in two days, and my piece is in rough condition. No pressure. 😐

durmar6I also met a few representatives showcasing a new literary journal, The Ponder Review. I spoke with them about my Emmett Wilson project, and was also encouraged to submit my article; I have a little more wiggle room with their deadline, which is March 6.

And, in the midst of preparing journal submissions I am halfway finished with the first read-through of Emmett’s 450-page manuscript. So far, the quality is mixed — the first chapter is in fairly good shape. But the second chapter is awful.

Frankly, I’m not surprised at the poor condition of the second chapter, because when I look back at my notes on this section, I saw that I was complaining to myself and to Nancy mightily about how hard it was to write. In my notes, I said that I couldn’t figure it out why this was so hard, because ironically, it is one of the periods of Emmett’s life where there are relatively few information holes.

20170124233249jekyllhyde1931

Source: Wikipedia

But now, after eight months since I drafted the chapter — what immediately jumps out is Emmett’s Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior, and I can see that I was trying to present Emmett’s behavior consistently, when in fact, there was nothing consistent in his behavior at all. He was up and down because this is when Emmett’s drinking habits became entrenched. He’s only 22 years old in the second chapter, but there’s already evidence of blackout drinking.

The inconsistencies are quite telling, and an important aspect of Emmett that needs to stay in this story.

I’m kind-of surprised I didn’t notice this pattern eight months ago, when I was in the midst of writing the chapter, but then, I had a similar situation back in my dissertation days. My dean recommended that I step away from the research for about month — do something different — then come back with fresh eyes, because it would make all the difference.

Such good advice then, and now.

I should clarify that when I say ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ I don’t want to imply that Emmett was evil; but when Emmett became intoxicated, he became a different person. Perhaps he did seem as if he was possessed by an evil spirit once he had had too much; it is clear that Emmett Wilson was a completely different person when he was sober.

 

 

I’ve made the notes and crafted a more cohesive structure for the second chapter, which I’ll rewrite after I’ve gone completely through the manuscript.