Last night I dreamt I was convicted of mass murder (from igniting an oil refinery — totally not my fault) and thrown into prison. At first the officials were polite, but then there followed a rapid decline in manners as they handcuffed me, and forced me into prison garb. I fleetingly perceived the latter to be a sort of Joan of Arc outfit, white with a rope belt, but in retrospect it was more of a retro madhouse number. Still, they let me keep my diamond stud earrings on, which, WASP that I am, made me foolishly think everything was going to be alright. Enter the prison warden, a Colonel Klebb doppelganger who proceeded to hack off my hair, and then plunge a massive hypo full of truth serum in my jugular, SPECTRE style. I took this all in dream stride; I was even sort of relieved they cut my hair because honestly, at my age I’m kind of pushing it wearing it so Marianne Faithful long. And the truth serum made me woozy, but I knew I was still going to lie to the authorities about blowing up the refinery, because I was only doing research.
Only a painter or a writer would use that line.
Accordingly, the lifeline cogitation that permeated the dream was that because I was a writer they were going to have to be nice to me, otherwise I would write terrible things about them.
I’m asked all the time what my mother, who has been dead for twelve years, and who features heavily in Dead End Gene Pool, and not always in a flattering way, would have thought about her starring role. There’s a reason I wrote it after she was dead. After a public show of being horrified, I know she would have been beside herself over the notoriety.People love being written about. Really, they thrill to see their names in the printed word, even if the text that follows goes on to describe their scurrilous behavior.
Actually, my mother is a fan of Dead End Gene Pool. It says so on her Facebook page. It makes me scratch my head so hard, I even wrote a piece about it called "Dead Mom Talks Through Facebook."
So I’m working on my next book now — another memoir, because according to my agent, who is supremely wise, if your first book was a memoir, then your second one has to be a memoir as well, only it cannot be a sequel to the first one because if someone didn’t like the first one they sure as hell aren’t going to buy the second one. It’s called Machinery of Love and Death, and it’s based here in Portland, which seems to have a few people squirming; mostly my in laws. My mother in law, who never used to care much that I painted, not always being fond of the subject matter is now practically ready to open a gallery for me.
"Wendy, dear, you’re such a nice painter; I don’t understand why you don’t pursue it fulltime and give up this writing thing."
I tell her the same thing every time she says that: listen, the book is not about YOU, it’s about Portland, and you are in it a little, but honestly, if anyone reads it at all — hey, if it even gets published — you’ll be ninety-nine and no one will care. YOU won’t care! You’ll be in a crib, with hot and cold running nurses in attendance, watching the Catholic Channel.
I adore my mother-in-law because at 87 she still has a massively healthy ego, as well as a ruthlessly sharp brain, and she knows how to work me over with both of them. Her son, my dead husband, has a starring role in the next book. Pied Piper flaneur that he was, he is going to love, love, love it.
And the apple rarely falls far from the tree, especially here in the Northwest.
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The great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Wendy Burden is a former illustrator, zoo keeper, taxidermist, owner and chef of the bistro Chez Wendy, and served as the art director of a pornographic magazine — from which she was fired for being too tasteful.
Books mentioned in this post
Wendy Burden is the author of Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir