I had a farm in Africa…
No, not really but lately I have been receiving some cosmic mojo from Isak Dinesen’s book Out of Africa.
You know, the one that was made into a fab movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. She played Karen Blixen, a gutsy Scandinavian who married a Barron to get away from her family. He was a very likeable sort, and they really were good friends. That being said- he had numerous affairs and gave her syphilis. She survived by having terrible treatments (this was before penicillin, bummer) leaving her unable to have children. Denys Finch Hatton, played by Robert Redford, was the gorgeous ex-soldier turned game hunter who loved freedom more than anything or anyone else. He was an addicting combination of extremely capable (no lion is going to eat you on his watch) and well-read and a bit romantic. In the movie he washes her hair by the river while reciting poetry to her. That will do it. Sign me up.
But wait, hold on! There is more to the story and I just found out about it this week.
If you recall in the movie there is a character of a young tomboy named Felicity. She and Karen were fond of each other and became friends. She is sent to school and comes back gorgeous and well mannered. Karen later does not like it that Denys is taking Felicity flying with him. Remember that? Oh yes, my kitties. There is more to the story than that.
Here it is.
That character was based on a real person. That person was Beryl Markham. Beryl grew up kind of wild. Her father was a horse breeder and trainer. His wife took his son and returned to Europe leaving him alone to raise Beryl. From all accounts she was tall, gorgeous, extremely talented with horses and most certainly a woman before her time. She was married three times, had a few open affairs….one with a Prince but that was shut down by the royal family.
She was friends with Karen Blixen. She also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton and may or may not have been impregnated by him and had an abortion. Wow!
It is reported that on the day Denys Finch Hatton was killed in a plane crash… he had first asked Karen to join him and she said “No.” He then asked Beryl to join him and she was asked not to go by a flying friend who had a bad feeling about flying that day. She said, “No.” She felt there would be other days to fly.
Denys’s plane went down that day.
Karen went back to Europe and became a writer. She had been writing stories all along and published her first story at age 22. Her marriage and the coffee farm in Africa were but one part of her life. It was that life that she recorded in Out of Africa which was first published in 1937. She also wrote Babette’s Feast which was also made into an Academy award winning film. It won the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The name is familiar to me but I have not seen the film. I hope to do so this weekend. It is reported to also be a favorite of Pope Francis.
This is also interesting to me because I am getting some religious vibes. More on that later.
As for Karen, after she left Africa she continued to have some ups and downs. It seems to me that her success as a writer did allow her some fun. She became a bit of a character herself and was regarded as being eccentric and a bit of an outsider. I could find no more mentions of lovers or relationships after Denys. She was plagued by health problems and it is widely believed that she was anorexic. It is thought she died in 1962 of malnutrition.
Beryl Markham broke the rules. She grew up wild, got married and divorced a bunch of times, and had a few affairs with men who seem to have been very interesting. Go Girl!
She was the first woman to become a licensed racehorse trainer in Kenya. She later was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She wrote a memoir, West with the Night, that I am dying to read. Her book did not receive very much attention when it was first published.
Later, in 1982 in a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s letters it was found that Hemingway himself praised the book saying, “But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers….it really is a bloody wonderful book.”
That spurred some interest in the book and it was republished in 1983. The proceeds allowed a now broke Beryl to live the rest of her life in modest comfort.
If you want to read more about these people/characters in a fictionalized setting check out Paula McLain’s book Circling the Sun. I just read it and that is why this story is being written. Oh Paula, what road have you gotten me going down?
As for me…
Many of you know that I am single and have never been married. No kids. There have been a few romances along the way… good ones…bad ones…. They were all worth it. Am I like Karen and Beryl? Am I destined to be alone at the end of my days with nothing but a few good stories to tell? Would that be okay? Maybe, I think to myself. Maybe.
Something has shifted. I think maybe it is stemming from the yoga I have been doing this past year. Last night I went to a sound immersion- a combination of restorative yoga and then resting while a sound therapist plays gongs and chimes. I did not think anything was happening to me. Suddenly, I was fully awake, right before the crescendo. I was energized and knew that I could handle it. I was AWAKE. I wanted to jump up and run out of that room and get GOING.
Where are you going and what are you going to do, you ask?
Well, for starters I am going to STOP WORRYING.
I signed a contract to purchase a historic building. I plan to gut it and design a new optometry office. I had to give my notice this week to my current land lord- so I am officially past the point of no return. I was stressing out about the building stuff- rules, rules, rules! Who knew that renovating a building could be such a hassle. But I have found the right architect and he is going to steer me through the mine fields of historic building renovation and City codes… I have faith. He is good at what he does and I am going to let him do his thing.
I am going to RELINQUISH CONTROL.
I think this is the underlying basis for pretty much everything that is happening in my life.
I overthink everything.
Thinking can be good. There is nothing wrong with attention to detail and striving for excellence. Perfection on the other hand… is a nasty word that needs to be destroyed. What is perfection? Can perfection endure the test of time and forces of nature? I have tried to be perfect. The perfect daughter, sister, friend, and lover… I can state with certainty that perfection is at a minimum fleeting and most likely nonexistent.
What is it then? What am I craving? What am I needing?
I think what I need is to be able TO BE MYSELF.
I want to try. I don’t always care if I succeed. I want to try to write a novel. Who cares if it is bad? I want to travel to places I haven’t been. Who cares if I don’t like it? I want to cook and bake and eat and drink. Who cares if I am not as skinny as I was in 1987, or 1996, or 2005? I want to be me and I want to eat some bread, dammit! My face and my boobs are certainly showing the effects of gravity. Who cares? I might not look as good- but I do have some good stories to tell. I want to have lots more of those stories to tell before I end up too old to remember or dead. I want to do those things with people who like being with me and don’t expect me to be perfect. I want to be able to disagree at times and have messy hair without fear of abandonment. I want to be able to wear my flannel pj’s with holes in them and still feel desired. Is that possible? I may have gone too far.
As for being alone, I have seen with my own eyes that most of us do end up alone. It is probably a good thing to be comfortable with that from the get go.
What are the rules? I do not know….rules, rules, rules! I am not a big fan. What is good for me, might not be good for you. Who is to say?
Yesterday I was speaking with a lady who is helping me find new health insurance. My current plan is being axed from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. I buy my own health insurance and have for many years. The whole thing is a mess. Anyway, she told me I have a few options. One is to buy traditional insurance. The other way is to join a group of individuals who are Christians who “help” one another with medical expenses in a Christian way. She asked me if I was a Christian? I said, “Yes” because I grew up going to St. Mary Magdalene every Sunday and CCD every Wednesday of my young life until I turned 19 and started tending bar. That was the end of that. However, I still pray to St. Rita and I have faith. I am not sure if that qualifies as a resounding yes, but I think that got me over the first hurdle. Ok, now on to the second question. Am I interested in helping others? That one was easy. Sure! I am a definite “Yes” for helping others. The last question…Am I living my life in a way that upholds Christian beliefs? Uh oh. What does that mean exactly? Well, for this model of medical sharing (they don’t call it insurance) it means that if you engage in behavior that is not considered acceptable… you will not be covered if you hurt yourself or get diseases. No smoking, no drinking and driving and getting into accidents. No sexual relationships outside of marriage. Birth control isn’t covered. You get the drift.
For the most part- I do live a Christian life. I am not 100%. You had probably figured that out by now. I thought a lot about that. I am a sinner. I sent a text to a good friend and told him I could save $2300 bucks a year. He replied it might be worth $2300 bucks a year to have fun. Lol.
So, I am going to pay extra and get traditional health insurance. I just don’t want to have to LIE about anything or pretend I am someone I am not to save money. I will stick with St. Rita (patron saint of lost cases) and try to live a good life.
Maybe I am like Karen and Beryl. In some ways I think that would be great. Maybe if all goes well I will have a better ending. I will work on that. Before you can have an ending though there must be a beginning.
I bought a historic building in Oshkosh…
3 thoughts on “Flying Too Close To The Sun”
You are so awesome Jill. I love reading your creative work. Good luck with the building and when you publish your first book I’ll be the 1st in line to buy a signed copy.
Thanks Lynda! It gives me courage to write when I know I have friends that support and encourage me. It means a lot.
What a great post! Loved reading about Beryl Markham. I also think it’s just great to highlight all the different kinds of strong women that can exist – we are so often confronted with only two or three images in the media.