I come from a distinguished storytelling lineage, meaning not that I descend from a family of writers but that they provided me with endless, amusing characters and stories of their own. My biological father was a handsome athlete and plastics salesman, who would, later in life, invent shrink wrap. He failed to rescue me from my cruel mother, but taught me to drive, swim, ski and climb trees, not to mention deliver a speedy left hook that kept me out of trouble with school bullies. He also read to his children incessantly, night after night, graduating from Tom Sawyer to Moby Dick. But it is Mr. Herman Melville whom I claim as my literary paterfamilias. You see, I knew from the very beginning of my life, that I wanted to be a writer. It wasn't until well into my twenties that I made a formal commitment to writing, but seriousness of purpose was always there, from the moment I received my first large, green-lined yellow tablet and pencil at age 6. How I loved to see those tall letters soaring up to the sky of my imagaination, marching across the page like resolute, brave soldiers. Something inside me knew that those letters were my destiny, and that solely and wholly they would keep me from harm. They became my religion, a spiritual litany of words. From the Grimms to Ernest Hemingway, from A.A. Milne to William Faulkner, from Louisa May Alcott to Shakespeare, the words would carry me. Erica Jong kept me from killing a husband because while we were driving and I was reading "Fear of Flying" I was laughing too hard to wield a weapon. Emily Dickinson kept me from killing myself because her brief homilies of genius required me to work at understanding them, and when I did, I wanted to live so that I could read them all, and write my own.
My writer's maternal influence surely is Louisa May Alcott. Though she married in fiction, she was as determinedly single as any woman can be. I felt her nurturing warmth keenly, far more than my own mother's chilly, often violent presence. Unlike my birth mother, Ms. Alcott never abandoned me for a brother.
It began with these two eminences: Melville and Alcott. They "birthed" me as a writer, fed me in a way that no one had before. Their prose inhabited me, formed me. Interestingly, all three of us came from New England soil. The first time I visited her home in Concord, where Alcott wrote "Little Women," it was closed to the public. Standing on the doorstep of this literary shrine, shuddering in the sharp air of an October morning, I was suddenly shocked by a clarion of blaring trumpets. I looked up to see a flock of geese driving south, flying over the lintel in a perfect "V" formation. I knew then that I, too, would be a writer, following in Jo's footsteps.
And while I may now live in the desert of Las Vegas, far from the sand and sea that was my home as a child, from Mr. Melville I learned the intricacies of a seaworthy knot, and the harpooning of a giant whale. I may not be the sailor he was, but simply an Ishmael, an adventurer out to tell my story, hoping not to be capsized by a monstrous fish. In my case, from what I have learned about myself so far, that creature might be my own ego, and the dilettantes will have the last laugh even after I prove no more than chum. After all, Melville in his time was accused of being "over-written," of blathering on about subjects far afield of the actual story.
Before going further, I must confess to having several identities. My pen name is Hawthorne Wood, after Nathaniel Hawthorne, my favorite New England male novelist and short story writer, best friend to Melville and the Alcotts. When I wrote the column "Notes Of A Woman Artist" for a small-town newspaper, I was known as Bonnie Shakespeare, and people took to calling me that. Though they knew my real name, they couldn't seem to divorce me from my writing. That is always lovely and thrilling: to know that people are reading your thoughts and ideas and identifying you as a unique writer. It is something of a glorious, self-romanticizing fiction, one I have found can warm me at night, no matter how fleeting the flame. I need to take note of that as I proceed here. You see, I write - and make art - to learn about myself, as mentioned, and also to get love. Maybe this work will be the transformative agent I am seeking. An artist never knows until long after the changes have come about. One day she turns around and sees her old self walking away, back over the bridge. Mostly, it has happened to me when I fall in love with a man who is a creative partner, someone who believes in past lives and karma as I do, a wanderer coming upon a deep well filled with cool, healing water. Love tends to upend everything, which is what I believe makes it so terrifying to most people, but I welcome it. I wonder if I will ever find another man to love me as much as the one who held me in his heart for twenty-five years. I am a better person thanks to him. When I met him I asked not what he could do for me (as I had with so many men before him)but what I could give to him. I find that it is only through selflessness that love can truly flourish.
However, having lost the love of my life, uncertain as to whether there will ever be another partner for me, there are truths and wisdoms I must now face alone. Am I a writer or an artist? The name I write under here is my artist name: CutZy McCall. She is a digital artist these days, making fashion collage images (hence, the name "CutZy" - I wield a mean scissors) enhanced with experimental tech modern manipulation. I had been using "traditional" artist's tools from my early thirties, when I began to make visual art, lots of it. It confused me, because I had taken a vow at age thirty to be a writer, and with that vow came an outpouring of short stories and poetry. But soon these creations were followed by obsessive drawings, watercolors, pastels, pen and ink renderings and collage, culminating in cutting-edge poured and dripped enamels on tall, clear Plexiglas screens called "Atlantean Visions," the name of my gallery in Rockport, Massachusetts. I began using the word "artist" instead of "writer" to describe myself, but I was clearly - or unclearly - both. I found that the duality of identity could tear my apart. I would go through long bouts of doing one or the other, and still do, feeling guilty, always, for leaving the other behind. I called these episodes "blocks," but where they? It was simply that, after a long episode of writing, another of painting would burst forth, and I could not write another word, and vice versa. I was working to support myself as a psychic and astrologer, and knew a lot about myself as a multiple Gemini, sign of the twins, veering back and forth from one discipline to the other. "Combine them," I was told. "Write a picture book with words." But that was not to be. My art and writing were very separate from one another. I would think, Perhaps I am neither, or rather, simply a dilettante like my intelligent but fearful mother, whose reticence, I am certain, was a direct result of the culture's view of women in her time. She went to art school but dropped out to marry my father and bear children. She worshiped art, but never pursued it herself. Her greatest gift to me, a gift of love, was announcing to me at age eleven that I was a poet, and showing me art every day until at age seventeen I screamed for her to "Stop shoving culture down my throat!" That was both a rebellion and a "time out." I needed to throw off her prejudices ("Matisse is merely decorative.") It is time to take final stock of my relationships, deal with the fall-out, pick up the pieces, put them in place. And whether this journey turns out well, or is well turned-out, is irrelevant. I must leave my ego behind on this trip, in the service of a greater consciousness. I must find out: am I a writer or an artist? Hawthorne Wood or CutZy McCall? What have I missed? Did she love me, or love me not? It all begins - I must begin - with Mother.