THE PREPARATIONBlowing Rock and Asheville, North Carolina
;Washington, D.C.; and New Yor
AUGUST 12—OCTOBER 4, 1961 On August 8, 1961, with a ﬁrm plan very much in mind, a restless twenty-four-year-old Gail Godwin had settled in her dormitory at Mayview Manor, a once-elegant resort in the mountains of western North Carolina. She had taken a job as a waitress at the resort to earn money for the European trip that would inaugurate her creative writing career. “My room was on the top ﬂoor,” Gail now recalls, “and my bed looked out into the trees. The night was clear and spicy with wood smells. It was after the dinner shift and I had bathed and was drinking Hennessey eight-year-old cognac.”
She took out her eight-by-ﬁve-inch “Record Book”–which she has said was her “savings account and safety deposit box”–and wrote in a heartfelt way about her father getting drunk in his little brick house and falling asleep on the sofa. Mose W. Godwin was divorced from Gail’s mother, Kathleen, and Gail had spent some time nourishing his sense of hope as he supported her in her ﬁrst year of college.
The memory would eventually ﬁnd its best expression in Gail’s story “Old Lovegood Girls.”
1 Presently, she penned herself some literary encouragement: “Stand by me oh noble holy inspiration. Let . . . me . . . do . . . it.”
Gail knew she was standing at one of the great turning points in her life. Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had left her hungry for knowledge and opportunity, and the loss of her job as a reporter at the
Miami Herald had added both fear and fuel to her resolve. During this period, she had also been married to
Herald photographer Douglas Kennedy and divorced ﬁve months later, and she was conscious that she hadn’t published anything except for a story in a Chapel Hill literary magazine and her newspaper stories.
The surest proof of her calling to a writer’s life was this persistent sentiment, expressed on August 20: “I want to be everyone who is great; I want to create everything that has ever been created.”
1. Reprinted in the 2004 Reader’s Circle edition of Evenings at Five. She wished, in addition to encompassing the world, to be one of its masterful explainers. This is the ﬁrst revelation encountered in her journals: the extent of her aspirations. It characterizes everything she creates. In this light, her books are revealed as attempts to explore, through dialogue and drama, territory both uncharted and vital. Success in such a journey involves negotiating doubts and embracing risks.
The Gail Godwin encountered in 196
1 is both urgently conﬁdent and relatively inexperienced. She has begun to survey her universe and to accumulate and organize her impressions. Reading is a key experience in this process, for by knowing what she likes and studying what impresses her, she is able to get a picture of what she, in her unique way, wants to fulﬁll. We join Gail as she is about to embark upon a remarkable journey.
2. Godwin shared this Faustian urge with Thomas Wolfe, with whom she also shared a hometown–Asheville, North Carolina. In an introduction she wrote in 1990 for a Book-of-the-Month Club reissue of Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again,
Godwin described her enchantment with his writing and her desire “to capture the whole history of the human heart,” as Wolfe had phrased it. It is also worth noting that when Godwin’s mother, Kathleen, had worked as a reporter for the Asheville Citizen-Times
during World War II, she had been dispatched to the dead novelist’s home “whenever Mrs. Wolfe called up the paper to announce, ‘I have just remembered something else about Tom’ ” (quoted from “Becoming a Writer,” in The Writer on Her Work,
volume 1 [W. W. Norton, 1980], a collection of essays edited by Janet Sternburg).
August 12, 1961
Tonight I think I worked physically harder than ever before in my life. Letter from steamship company. Will I really make it to Europe? God, I am going to have trouble sleeping tonight. I will be setting tables all night long. When I left the dining room—limp as a reed, physically exhausted to the point of sheer exhilaration—as soon as the wind cooled my sweat and I had heard a few notes of music from the dance band playing upstairs, I felt free and whole again, completely at ease with myself and confident that I could make it down the hill and just about anywhere else I want to go.
Write Glamour magazine. Retype “Lazarus”4 and “I Always Will.”5 Be independent, do your job, be involved in your duty.
Rewrote eleven pages of “Lazarus,” existed through two meals, and swam across the pool four times. I have saved $200. I have made about $400. Should be able to get another $200 before September 10 IF I REALLY WORK.
The bovines will attend Montaldo’s annual fashion show and the models will priss and primp—including [the owner’s] niece with the kinky
3. Mayview Manor, a 138-room hotel built of native chestnut wood and fieldstone, made Blowing Rock, North Carolina, a mecca for the rich when it was established in 1921. The hotel was closed in 1966 and demolished in 1978.
4. “The Raising of Lazarus,” an unpublished story, imagines a turning point in the life of a playboy. Godwin had begun it in 1959. Although it moves overdescriptively toward a safe ending, it exhibits a number of outstanding features, including the detailed imagining of another person’s intimate life and the integral inclusion of music in a character’s mood and routine. Godwin has appropriated one aspect of Lazarus’s story—his management of a Miami hotel—for her new novel, Queen of the Underworld.
5. “I Always Will,” an early story, no longer survives as a manuscript.
hair and the giggle. I will be clad in dirty pink uniform, running my tail off to get the pretty ladies fed their cold fruit plates in the hot, hot sun. The ice will melt in the tea. Marva will do something asinine. My legs will twitch and my makeup will disintegrate. Little L. the chipmunk6 will grin out of the window and slouch against the door watching the fashion show, chompingly confident of his right to be there.
Mail “Lazarus” and “I Always Will” to Littauer’s.7 No matter how much you don’t feel like it.
“Lazarus” could be an epic. I think I shall send it first to Esquire. Why not? I have a disease. I am trying to think of a word to describe it. It is that I want to be everybody who is great; I want to create everything that has ever been created. I want to own everything that everybody owns. In short, I have a desire for universal acquisition. Just looking at an issue of Esquire arouses a hundred different hungers. I want to have written all the good stories, said all the clever things. I want to buy all the clothes, try all the gourmet suggestions, and travel to all the countries.
As the summer season at Mayview Manor comes to a noisy close, Gail’s journal dwells on the contrast between the ideal world of her imagination and the real world of resort society. Gail needed to be in both places—the ideal and the practical—but the call of the former was more seductive. The quality that bridges the two realms is refinement.
Refinement relates to how one engages with society. In this regard, Gail absorbs the advice of B., her friend and serious beau, about reticence and inner strength. Refinement also bears bitingly upon the affectations
6. L. was the young assistant manager at Mayview Manor.
7. Kenneth Littauer, a New York literary agent, in response to a query from Godwin, had said he’d look at her work. Godwin had turned to him after having sent another agent, Lurton Blassingame, a novel that she had adapted from one of her mother’s works—only to discover that Blassingame had previously represented the original manuscript for her mother. As it turned out, Godwin never sent Littauer anything.
and habits of the upper class, to which Gail, as a kind of Cinderella, has to cater at Mayview Manor.
In her life, Gail experienced being part of many classes. Her search for refinement sometimes leaves both the barbarians and the bourgeoisie behind.
The last aspect of refinement has to do with art and, namely, Gail’s writing. Magically, writing takes the other two types of refinement in hand. In society, Gail was training herself to observe, describe, and ultimately care for anyone and everyone.
Gail had to avoid falling into the observer’s trap—dispassion and, in extreme cases, vampirism (“draining” people of their secrets).8 A writer must find a way to take notes on his or her experiences while remaining a vital participant.
The girls are dropping out one by one . . . Seven left . . . We started with thirty-five. As soon as they clear out, their faces and voices fade from my memory as quickly as the little light which dwindles into nothing after you turn the TV off.
B. & I had a talk on reticence. I love the way he talks in outline. He doesn’t ramble and he doesn’t forget what he was saying.
“Each year I learn to say less and less.”
I came back to the room and scrubbed myself clean of all those people. It is good to be exposed to troglodytes and their truisms and their bad manners. It makes one aware of the many layers which must be piled one on top of the other to make a sensitive, self-respecting, and aware individual.
In one of B.’s letters he explained that women can’t accomplish security by marrying well and men can’t find it by settling down to a steady job.
8. At the time, Gail was writing a story titled “Bentley’s Girl,” which depicted a man named Bentley who drained people of their secrets while passively listening and nodding. His victims referred to him as a “terrific conversationalist.”
You get it through a long series of personal accomplishments. For some it is easier than for others. Others have to work harder, and yet the harder workers outdistance the greatly talented ones, and then one day you realize you’re carrying your own security in your own being. “If you can do it once, you can do it again, and so rises the indestructible pyramid.”9
It is too early to go to sleep (10:30) and there is a full moon and there is music coming from downstairs and flooding the trees outside my window. And tonight is one of those clear, mystic, confident nights when the words flow. The Rachmaninoff Third10 was coming through from New Orleans as I was driving back from work. I sat in the car and listened and stared at a light and thought, “I will do it, I will do it,” then this suddenly emerged as “I am doing it.” I am there. This summer has been a major achievement in my life. It has been an agony (which started off to mean “contest”).
Marya Mannes11 says to look around a man’s apartment to determine what he is.
If he has Exodus & Advise & Consent on his shelves, Reader’s Digest on his coffee table, the usual ducks flying over the marsh at dawn on his wall, and Andre Kostelanetz in his album stack, you are going to hit bottom pretty quick.
On my many unaccompanied prowls around B.’s lair, I have found that he lives for comfort, for B., and does not surround himself with ar-
9. B.’s phrase “the indestructible pyramid” became such a key one in Godwin’s concept of independence and of a patient accumulation of experience and confidence that she used it as the conclusion of her first complete novel “Gull Key” (unpublished).
10. Sergey Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3 has a Romantic, Peer Gynt kind of melody that, in Rachmaninoff’s hands, ends up sounding like a brave voice in a raging storm.
11. Marya Mannes, whose 1958 book More in Anger electrified the country with its satire, was a helpful guide. Mannes shared Godwin’s tendency to replace abstract character traits with the habits and possessions of individuals, judiciously observed.
ticles he does not use just because he thinks he ought to have them. His living room—good solid, heavy furniture, a magnificent desk, uncluttered and organized, a large color photograph of some beautiful golf course in California, pipes with leather bowls, white crème de menthe, vodka, Johnnie Walker. Milk, cheese, and month-old chicken salad in the refrigerator. Well-supplied kitchen. On his reading table (by his bed, not in the living room where everyone can see what he is reading):
the latest Sports Illustrated
Golf Is My Game
Goren’s point count
The Rise and Fall, etc. (which he is reading—“It makes me realize how uneducated I am compared to Shirer and Adolf.”)
Justine (which a girl gave him to read and he has not touched it yet)
the August issue of the North Carolina Diaries of Supreme Court Cases
He has no clock and wakes at will every morning at eight, cooks his own breakfast, goes leisurely uptown to work.
In his closet are several very respectably used sports jackets of tweed & corduroy (he has nothing ostentatiously new), a thick gray cardigan, a slew of good suits—tweed, Oxford gray, navy, etc. And, of course, his white navy shoes with the oil from the decks of the Coral Sea still on the soles.
And the three-foot shoehorn (“If a man bends down every day to put his shoes on, he is more likely to have a heart attack”).
And . . . his duck clothes brush.
Anyone reading this would think I had absolutely nothing to do besides be by this window and read and sleep and think and write in this book. Well, they would be right. I have never before had this much privacy coupled with security. For the next five days I have absolutely no worries. I have enough money, I am young, healthier than I have ever been in my entire life (I can tell from the way my blood throbs in my face), and I feel excellent when I wake up, I am clean inside and out. And tonight I stood outside on the de-awninged terrace and watched the after-rain clouds snuggle down between the ranges and thanked God for just letting me live. People like me, with antennae, sensitive, alert, and forever feeling, feeling—if they get through a certain period of life (thirteen to twenty-three) when everything hurts, then they embark upon a strange, magnificent epoch when everything is enjoyed—even pain.
And I must think of last September, about this time. How far I was from here! In spirit, in confidence, in every way, I came back from that navy reconnaissance flight into Donna.12 I was worn and haggard and dry mouthed and gritty eyed.
Gail on Getting Fired
During my months in Miami, from June through September of 1959, I was the bright young journalist-in-training. Even after I was sent to the Miami Herald office in Hollywood, Florida, Herald assistant managing editor Al Neuharth, who later in his career founded USA TODAY, phoned me one day to say, “You’re turning into a real newspaper gal. I hope your relationship with us continues for a long time.”
A few months later, I was “promoted” to the Herald’s Fort Lauderdale office. The bureau chief, Keith, told me I had a flair for leads.
One of my masterpieces was: “A pair of flaming undershorts saved the life of Richard Dolan, who was lost in the Everglades for three days and
12. On September 7, 1960, Godwin went out with the U.S. Navy’s Hurricane Hunter Squadron to study Hurricane Donna, a landmark weather event with gusts of up to 175 mph. The next day, her article, “I Looked Donna in the Eye—She’s Tough,” was the top story on the front page of the Miami Herald.
three nights.” But as time went on, I pleased Keith and his assistant, the Broward women’s page editor, less and less. They certainly had their justifications. I let my boredom show. There wasn’t enough to do. After I had completed my one or two assignments for the day, I actually took frequent trips to the hairdresser down the block, and came back freshly coiffed, and even with different shades of hair. I acted out the role of the flighty starlet who was headed back to Miami as soon as her trial period in the bureaus was over.
The following spring, Neuharth sent me and a few others from the Miami ofﬁce to start the Pompano ofﬁce. This was a heady time. We were all young and ambitious, and we had lovely expense accounts. We had a hand in every aspect of newspaper production, including page makeup, and still had energy left over for late-night drinking and midnight ocean swims.
Then in June I was returned to Fort Lauderdale. I didn’t know it, but this was my last chance. If Keith gave the okay, I could stay in the Broward bureau. One day in August of 1960, I found Keith’s note in my typewriter. I have spent more time working and worrying over your future than I have spent on the entire rest of the staff combined. I must confess I’ve been a failure. I apologize for my mistakes. But the fact remains that I cannot see any further beneﬁt from my efforts or yours and I am convinced it would be to your beneﬁt to ﬁnd someplace to “start over.” This has been harsher than I intended it to be. I really feel badly that I have failed to make a good reporter out of obviously promising material. I hope you can use this experience somewhere but I’m afraid you won’t do it successfully until you look facts in the face and at the same time quit expecting to get to the moon in one day.
After Keith told Miami that he had given up on me, the powers there called me back to Miami to ﬁll in for several people who were on vacation. My goose was cooked, but somehow I managed to withhold this knowledge from myself. I was going to show them!
I performed brilliantly during that respite period back in Miami, sometimes having six bylines a day. They sent me into Hurricane Donna with the Navy. My story had the banner headline and a photo of me. “This has been a real Gail Godwin day,” said Marie Anderson, the Miami women’s editor, passing me in the hall.
Several days later, Neuharth called me into a meeting in the boardroom with a few other solemn editors and said they were going to “help me ﬁnd another job.” Neuharth said the deciding factor had been my impatience to come back to Miami when others, more seasoned, had been waiting their turn for years. He said, naming a worthy bureau person in Fort Lauderdale, “Why, X wakes up every morning praying this will be the day he’s called back to Miami.”
Though Neuharth suggested I might try writing ﬁction, he said he was not suggesting I switch careers: he was going to help me ﬁnd another newspaper job and give me good references. But I went to pieces and the gents left me in the boardroom, weeping in my upright chair. Neuharth had tucked the envelope with my generous severance pay under my thigh since I had refused to take it from his hand.
Drove to the Ranch House Restaurant (across a little bridge, pine paneled, pine tables, Swiss-looking curtains, voluptuous marigolds bursting from tiny glass vases, a look of regimented pomp). Had breakfast with poor W, who insisted on coming along. He is so sad. Prefaces every remark with “I’m the type of person that”–and I’m the type of person that can’t stand that. Bought Errol Flynn’s My Wicked, Wicked Ways,
13 which I shall read in the dining room. The Doctors come tomorrow night: dinner/breakfast/lunch/dinner/breakfast/lunch/dinner/ breakfast. Eight meals–and then freedom.
And the boys downstairs have Nina Simone14 crooning away in her husky, equatorial passion. This screen is patched and rusty, my linen is dirty because Mrs. Young15 won’t give us any more now. But where else can I lie almost ON TOP of the trees and look to a future, enjoy the past, and relish the present?
A hot bath in L’Heure Bleu,16 a half-quart of Budweiser, and voici moi
under the blue blanket out of it again.
Saint Genevieve’s17 in the midafternoon, sitting by a window in the early spring, trying to do algebra, listening instead to Mozart by some advanced piano student on the third ﬂoor–the student pausing to think–then ﬁngers rippling again over the keyboard.
Sitting in Howard Johnson’s on the hill between Durham & Chapel Hill, watching the cars, talking–talking with Bill Hamilton, Martin, Uncle Wm, Ronnie, Shelley.18
Walking across campus that last year, knowing it was my last, savoring every minute of it. Looking out of the Tar Heel
19 ofﬁce windows from the vantage point of F.’s lap. What kept us writing each other so faithfully all these months, ’59, ’60, ’61? I never loved him. But I lent him money, took him to dinner, bought him books, called him, mailed him letters, did his errands. I think he is the example in my life of true friendship. I never betrayed him (even when the CIA man came to Key Biscayne and asked me what I knew) and he would never betray me. I remember when he and I drove to Durham in the rain to see Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.
He had a Coke and popcorn and he condescended to let me hold on to his thickly sweatered arm.
1 Flynn’s autobiography, released soon after his death in 1959, had stirred up controversy because of its blurring of fable and fact, objectionable portraits, and candidness about the author’s convictions and obsessions.
2 The African-American pianist and jazz singer grew up poor in Tryon, North Carolina, about thirty miles from Asheville.
3 Mrs. Young, housemother to waiters and waitresses in Gail’s dorm, “monitored our linens and our morals,” Gail says.
4 Jacques Guerlain created the fragrance L’Heure Bleu (the name means “the blue hour”) in 1912.
5 In 1908, a French order of nuns known as the Religious of Christian Education established St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines, a Catholic private school with a nondenominational educational mission, in Asheville. Gail Godwin attended from the second grade through the ninth.
6 Gail’s recollection of her Chapel Hill conﬁdants includes Bill Hamilton, an admired friend; Ronnie, a “playmate,” who boarded Gail’s boxer when the dog had been kicked out of Gail’s dorm; Shelley, a doctor, with whom Gail had had a stormy relationship (for a ﬁctional treatment, see “The Angry Year,” in Mr. Bedford and the Muses
); Martin, a Miami Beach hotel director and a mentor; and Uncle William, Gail’s father’s older brother, a Selma, North Carolina, judge who had looked after her following her father’s suicide in 1958.
Tonight Sande & I formed a “team” to wait on the internal mediciners (most people are so uncouth–it looks as if doctors could honor their title by wearing coats and ties to dinner, by being polite to their wives and to the waitress, and eat their soup correctly, tipping the spoon away from them). I don’t think I would marry a doctor. All they know is the science they practice. I think I would prefer a lawyer, a writer (a good one), a newspaperman (in an executive position), or a competent, serious-minded playboy who just played well.
10:30 p.m. Fatigue is the very opposite of buoyancy. When I am in a state of fatigue, everything about me wants to go down instead of up. It is a sinking, dull, heavy, gray-black, dirty ache. It makes me do things haphazardly, dangerously, cutting corners, surly and undeliberate. It wipes out all other thoughts: sex, art, ambition, love, hate.
Tonight–I have the worst case of fatigue I have ever experienced in my life.
This afternoon there was a note in my car. (They always get so attentive right at the end, like Bill H. handing me my diploma at Chapel Hill and kissing me.) I followed the directions of the note and went to
19. The Daily Tar Heel
was and is the ofﬁcial newspaper of the University of North Carolina.
his family’s chalet and took a shower with some of his mother’s spice soap.20 Then we sat on the porch watching the golfers below us zigzagging around in their electric carts. He read the ﬁnancial section of the New York Times
and told me about some bad stocks he’d bought. Then we read the sailing dates together and licked our chops over names like Leonardo da Vinci,
21 Tangiers, Honduras, Marseilles, Macao, Gibraltar, Napoli, Brazil, Alexandria, Antwerp. He told me about the little Italian man who invented the double-entry bookkeeping method while he was auditing the books for the building of a new cathedral. I ate honeydew melon and curled my toes in his lap, and decided it would be a long time before I got this close to such pure, healthy handsomeness again. Later, I sat alone in my “sidewalk café,”22 drinking muddy coffee, eating a greasy hamburger, watching the clock, and playing “Raindrops” and “I Apologize” on the jukebox over and over again.
“I just might come to Asheville to see you,” he said. And then: “Let’s make a clean pact. No tears, okay?”
“You’re just saying that to make sure you say it ﬁrst and to hide your own feelings,” I said.
“I have to keep one step ahead of you,” he said.
He’s not ripe yet, but he’s all right.
God, I am so tired.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA The summer cares are over and I am setting about preparing for a trip–happy occupation! Tonight: Ask B. if I can spend a whole day
1 “He” was “L.,” the young assistant manager at Mayview Manor (“the chipmunk”– see August 15). Gail had spurned him at ﬁrst because he was four years her junior and rich. “He went home every night to his family’s chalet,” Gail recalls, “while the other young employees had to put up with the limited amenities of the dorm.” But he persisted, and at the end of the summer she began to “appreciate his fresh good looks, his hunger to take his place in the big world,” and his intensive campaign to win her approval.
2 The Italian ocean liner Leonardo da Vinci
was put into service in 1960 as a replacement for the Andrea Doria,
sunk in 1956. Financially unsuccessful, the Leonardo
was removed from service in 1978 and destroyed by ﬁre in 1980.
3 Gail is referring to a coffee shop in downtown Blowing Rock, where she often had a snack before going on evening duty at Mayview Manor.
writing at his house. Want to ﬁnish “Halcyone and the Lighthouse,”23 “Lazarus” & “I Always Will.” I think I could do it in one or two complete days.
Bought a ﬁne book, Malcolm Lowry, Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place.
24 Fantastic, multileveled feel of life conveyed. I am now reading about the sea voyage from Canada around the Gulf of Mexico to Rotterdam.
The margins are ﬁlled with passages from the “Ancient Mariner.”
I want to go to St. Genevieve’s and talk to Mother Winters25 before long.
There is no place–absolutely no place–like Asheville in the fall. Even the expressway isn’t so bad. It affords visions one could see no other way. And the white chunks of houses nudging against the pockets of the mountains. And the country women stepping out of trucks in front of the Citizen-Times,
their weathered faces hopeful, this week’s “Coinword” entry clutched in their pocketbook hand. And Mosleys is still on College Street. And I love it all. The people are kind of a humorous appendage. Not all the people. Just the silly country-club set and the asses I grew up with.
Now, this afternoon–the essence. And I escaped again. What I am trying to say is that there are two poles warring inside: the one when I sit in libraries on sunny afternoons and read about people like Salinger26 and wish . . . the other when I am inside of someone I love just for a minute and would sell the libraries of the world not to go outside again.
1 Godwin’s “Halcyone” story had been inspired by a shipping incident that she had covered as a Miami Herald
reporter. It came to encompass her interest in a sea captain and her soon-to-come transatlantic crossing. 2Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place,
published in 1961 after Lowry’s death, is a collection of his stories. It includes “Through the Panama,” in which a writer voyages to Europe on a freighter, bearing the albatross of literary self-consciousness. Under the Volcano
is Lowry’s most celebrated work.
3 Sister Kathleen Winters, or Mother Winters, from Ireland, served as principal of the grammar school at St. Genevieve’s, which Godwin attended from 1944 through 1952.
4 Gail had just bought and read Franny and Zooey,
J. D. Salinger’s novel about alienation from and compassion toward human society.
As noted by the above passages, I got out of hand and bought another book. Read in Fielding’s
about politeness in Denmark. Never never refuse a skŒl,
27 even though your belly bursts, and keep your eyes riveted.
And when you meet someone on the street you have spent previous time with you say, ﬁrst of all, not “Hello” but “Thank you for the wonderful time we had together the last time I saw you.”
Night before last, when I chose between leaving my family and losing my sanity, I went uptown and parked down in front of the courthouse under a tree in the park. I watched the policemen’s “changing of the guard” (riding off two by two in squatty little green & white patrol cars, looking ever so self-satisﬁed). And listened, smelled, and watched the sounds of Asheville as I had never done before. What struck me was the peculiar charm of the clash of architectural types and periods. The Jackson Building, with its elongated spire, reminding one of a king’s crown seen in a mirror which distorts things so they look long and thin; the pink & bronze city hall; the gray ugly courthouse whose lighted barred windows, where human forms sway during the night, fascinated me as a child; the dirty little buildings where the bondsmen collect their money with smug, red faces; the squarish-jutting irregularity of Pack Square; the click-click
(hollow sound) of billiard balls from an upstairs window painted green; the ex-bakery which now sells cheap clothing; Finkelstein’s pawnshop, almost turned respectable with the accumulation of years; the Library, which saved my life in May.28
Now Calmness. Conﬁdence. Tomorrow will be an interesting day. Anyway, tomorrow morning I get all dolled up and drive to the airport, and 1SkŒl,
or “skoal,” is a Scandinavian drinking greeting–a toast–and is derived from the Old Norse word for “bowl.”
2 In the stagnant period in her life, between her divorce and her Mayview Manor stint, Gail took refuge in Pack Memorial Library, then located in an old, Renaissance-style building on Asheville’s historic square. “I haunted the library,” Gail says, “read all the magazines, took out the maximum of books, prowled the ill-lit shelves.”
when Voit Gilmore29 steps off the plane, no matter how many ominous-looking people are waiting,
I will approach him ﬁrst and say: “Mr. Gilmore? Welcome to Asheville.”
30 article on him.
How excited everyone is over the new U.S. Travel Service.
Home of Miss America.31
Know something about the Forestry Celebration Act. Weeks Act.32
Let him know that if there is nothing open in Europe, I would love to work in Washington.
Traveled a lot.
And my Miami Herald
clippings will just happen to be resting expectantly in the Bank of Asheville briefcase in the back seat.
WASHINGTON, D.C. Aside from my constant companion (the headache in my left temple), I feel perfect and am lying here after a hot bath uncoiling. I guess the thing that makes me happiest about the entire morning is that I got through an ordeal all on my own and got past the personnel ofﬁce on my own steam. Besides that, I have an assignment for the Post.
I was actually asked to write something–a proﬁle on Bill Blair’s new wife. I can use Voit Gilmore’s name to get in there: “Tell them you know me, and tell them you are going to be with the Travel Service.” (He looked tired today.)
1 Voit Gilmore, a Winston-Salem native and Chapel Hill graduate, was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to head the U.S. Travel Service in 1961. Gail was hoping to be hired by him. 2Saturday Review.
3 Maria Beale Fletcher of Asheville had just been selected as Miss America 1962.
4 The U.S. Forest Service celebrated the ﬁftieth anniversary of the Weeks Law in 1961. The Weeks Law enabled the government to purchase land for national forests.
NEW YORK CITY Bev Miller–who will head the Travel Service in London, I liked very much. Big, straightforward, no pretense, just a man with a good grip on things, none of this “nifty” business. I went up to a new ofﬁce still in the process of being constructed. He was very cordial to me and I must say that I was struck by the naturalness of his approach. He was the ﬁrst one to detail this business for me, instead of making it sound like a fairy tale. I told him what he could expect from me; he told me what I could expect from the Travel Service. He asked me about my job at the Herald,
my public-speaking ability (said my Southern accent would be an “attraction,” which he liked), my capacity for dealing with people, working with women, researching; he asked me how long I wanted to stay in Europe, where in the U.S. I had been, if I had any money of my own, if I thought I could make it on the small pay. This point, he stressed, was what concerned him most.
Frankly, what I see in this is a job with a future. I can even see myself as a young executive. I have grown up ten years in the last year. I can tell the difference in the way I react during stress. Oh yes, he said he didn’t want any brash young teenagers in a conservative place like Britain. I don’t blame him. So anyway, I am going to get in touch with him “by November tenth at latest.”
“Well, it looks to me that you have the qualiﬁcations and we might work something out,” he said.
The train ride early in the day, bumbling around Penn Station in the rain, getting bled by porters, having all these calamities, all of this, was worth this timely meeting with him. I think these men realize that I have not failed once to be at the right place at the right time. Gilmore at the airport, at his ofﬁce between interviews, meeting Bev Miller just before he went to meet Gilmore. I think I have passed the entrance exam; now we must wait and see. There is no use to get frantic. And so I’m not going to.
Had dinner with a lady lawyer who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army. Tried to commission me on the spot. But at least I didn’t eat alone and pick up a man or something.
Bought volume 1 of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or
33–a Danish philosopher and something to bury myself in until Friday when my ship sails (I hope).
Also–visit the consul of Denmark.
Alone, alone in a large large city. Tried my new “life on $5 a day”– breakfast: coffee and danish, 40¢–then felt so proud of myself I went into Macy’s and bought a lipstick which cost $3.11. “Cellular Bronze.” What I dislike most about NYC is its nasal
I have discovered that courtesy goes far anywhere, especially
with waiters, policemen, agents, desk clerks, etc. A sympathetic smile saying “I just know what you’re having to put up with and I certainly don’t want to inconvenience you any more than necessary.” A nice little hairdresser from Barcelona who grew up with Garcia Lorca did my hair and gave me some addresses. Tonight I go out with Stu’s cousin. Just hope he’s suitable and not one of these “bright young men” with tight tight pants who smirk at the universe. If he’s just as nice as McKee,34 it’ll be ﬁne. Just the fact that I’ll be having dinner with someone is ﬁne, and if I don’t like him, I can just come home early. God, have I changed since June 1959, when I last embarked on a strange new experience.35 1Either/Or,
one of the truly readable great works of philosophy in Western literature, speaks directly to Godwin. Wanting to depict how the person who commits himself to making honest choices achieves a kind of freedom and happiness that the intellectual and the pleasure seeker can only graze, Søren Kierkegaard invents memorable, representative characters. A few of them anticipate kindred souls in Godwin’s ﬁction: the seducer, for whom every girl is woman in general; the despairer, who either learns to cherish himself or gives up; and the good husband, who performs acts of love every day, sometimes through simple tasks, which, nonetheless, assume great signiﬁcance in context.
2 McKee was Voit Gilmore’s assistant director in the U.S. Travel Service. Gail enjoyed her dinner with him on her last night in D.C.
3 Godwin, having graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in June 1959, boarded a train and embarked on her Miami Herald
adventure. Bruised, over the next two years, by breakups in marriage and career, she came around to summoning a second conﬁdence-charged leap of faith, one that also involved booking passage.
Excerpted from The Making of a Writer by Gail Godwin. Copyright © 2006 by Gail Godwin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.