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My brief encounter with the 1%

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It’s true. The one percent really aren’t like the rest of us. How do I know? A wealthy socialite once “adopted” me.

I was watching Cate Blanchett’s much-acclaimed performance in Blue Jasmine on DVD over the weekend when, about halfway through the film, it occurred to me that I’d met her character before.

Blanchett won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Jasmine Francis, a fallen socialite and widowed spouse of a super-rich businessman who turned out to be a con artist. Critics are heralding Blanchett’s transformation into this fragile, broken woman, but that’s not what made the film so mesmerizing to me at all. Her performance struck me because everything from Blanchett’s hairstyle to the cadence of her voice reminded me of a super-wealthy woman who befriended me in graduate school.

Flash back to the late 1990s, when the stock market was riding high and gazillionaire hedge-fund managers were a relatively new phenomenon. The stay-at-home wife wasn’t quite the rarity it is today, and the so-called mommy wars were just beginning. I was a young graduate student at the University of Chicago, its hallowed (and expensive) marble halls a long way from my gritty, working-class Ohio upbringing. Most of my classmates in my interdisciplinary master’s degree program went to equally expensive East Coast schools like Bard College, Wellesley, and Yale. As the graduate of a second-tier state university with a decidedly blue-collar background (not to mention wardrobe), I was an oddity.  I spent a lot of my time explaining to my well-heeled fellow students why I needed to hold down a campus work-study job to make the $350 monthly rent on my ratty student apartment. My clothes weren’t nice enough, my accent was wrong, and more than one fellow student called me “obtuse” during class discussions on classism and Jacques Lacan. So imagine my surprise when I was quasi-adopted by “Rosemary,”[*] the fortysomething wife of an uber-rich hedge fund manager who had enrolled in my graduate degree program mostly for fun.

It was Rosemary’s face and Rosemary’s voice I kept seeing and hearing in my mind’s eye while watching Blue Jasmine. It could easily have been Rosemary snagging the attention of Peter Sarsgaard’s lonely, wealthy widower instead of Cate Blanchett. Because, like Blanchett’s character, Rosemary walked the walk and talked the talk of a wealthy socialite, even if she didn’t actually earn that role for herself.

I’d noticed Rosemary around the quad and during lectures. It was kind of hard to miss her, since she wore a floor-length mink coat with matching hat and muff to campus every day, even when it was above fifty degrees. She wore Chanel suits and Hermés scarves, and her hands sported the largest and heaviest concoctions of gold and diamonds I’d ever seen. A cloud of French perfume announced her presence even before she entered a room. And although she spoke with a decidedly (if patrician) American accent, random British words like “chap,” “lorry” and “loo” occasionally entered her vernacular during class discussions, which made me wonder if perhaps she’d lost all touch with reality.

I gave Rosemary a wide berth for the first few weeks of the semester, knowing that I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with her. But she kept inventing reasons to talk to me, and when she asked if I would consider helping her with our Critical Theory class’ first term paper if she bought me lunch, I reluctantly agreed.

“I’m so impressed with what you post on the listserv every day, Jill,” she gushed over her treat of Thai noodles from the student café that afternoon. (This was in the days before blogs and Facebook, when students often swapped commentary on class assignments via much-forwarded email postings). “You’re a very good writer. How does someone like you learn to communicate like that?”

Someone like you. I’d heard that phrase plenty of times since school began — of course, she meant someone who wasn’t rich, who hadn’t gone to the best schools, et cetera. The fact that I was both poor and articulate was a curiosity. “I’ve always been good at writing,” I said with a shrug, which was true. I’d never had to work very hard at it, and always received accolades. “So what do you need help with?”

Rosemary showed me the draft of her term paper, and it was a mess — no clear thesis statement, plenty of rhetorical missteps, and even a fair number of misspelled words. Reading it was like trying to decipher the Enigma code. I tried to give her some pointers without insulting her, but she kept interrupting me. By the end of our lunch date, she still didn’t know how to fix her term paper — but I knew almost her entire life story. Like Blanchett’s Jasmine Francis, Rosemary’s favorite topic of speech was herself.

Rosemary had dropped out of college at nineteen when her husband “Dave” * had gotten her pregnant with twins. Remarkably, they were still married almost thirty years later. Rosemary raised the children in a one-room apartment and lived on handouts from her family while her husband finished school, and when they were both 22, they moved to New York so he could enter the financial industry. Success soon followed, though much of Dave’s career was spent abroad. They spent almost 30 years living in London, with brief stints in the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, and Switzerland.

Dave was a hedge-fund manager with a knack for derivatives, and he earned millions of dollars a year. They’d finally landed in Chicago after the market for Dave’s analytical skills soured in Europe. I learned that Rosemary went back to finish her bachelor’s degree in her early thirties while still living in England, and she was now completing her second master’s degree at University of Chicago. Her main area of interest was psychology, though she also dabbled in art history and postmodern literature. She’d also never had any kind of paying job, and never planned to get one. .

“I’m just learning for knowledge’s sake,” she’d explained when I asked why she was spending so much of her husband’s money on an education she had no plans to actually use. Instead, she collected degrees the same way that some people collect stamps or antique paperweights.

One lunch date led to another, and before long Rosemary had latched onto me, walking with me to classes and sitting next to me during lectures, where she constantly asked me to explain what the professor was saying. She learned about my modest upbringing in dribs and drabs, and took it upon herself to expose me to “a different sort of life,” as she put it. She invited me to spend the night at her lavish Gold Coast home for the first of what would be dozens of times.

“I want to adopt you,” Rosemary said one night while I dined with her and her husband off Wedgewood in one of her many well-appointed dining rooms. “You’re like the daughter I never had.”

I wasn’t formally adopted per se — no court hearings, notarized documents, or inheritance —  but Rosemary took me under her wing for the better part of two years, and during that time she gave me a taste of all the trappings that the super-rich enjoy. Like the British socialites who entered the fictional Downton Abbey’s revolving door a hundred years ago, I was a frequent dinner-and-sleepover guest at her posh penthouse on Chicago’s Astor Street, which took up an entire floor of a Beaux Arts-era co-op building. It was a dwelling filled with expensive antiques, fine art, and state-of-the-art electronics, and it seemed to go on for miles.

Though Rosemary lived there alone with her financier husband (her three sons were grown), the place had—that I counted, anyway—six different sitting rooms, three dining rooms, a kitchen that was larger than my first two apartments put together, a library and reading room half as long as a basketball court, and four full baths — one of which was tiled with imported French porcelain that told the story of a medieval shepherdess being courted by a goatherd in pictorial form. There were four bedrooms, including her vast master bedroom, which featured a massive four-poster bed that required a two-story ceiling to accommodate, and was dressed up in linens made with cloth of gold.

Yes, you read that right. The woman slept on fourteen-karat sheets. Or rather, her European designer duvet was shot through with real gold thread. “It’s a little itchy,” Rosemary said, “But I feel like a queen whenever I go to sleep!”

Rosemary also taught me about proper silverware placements, the difference between pounds, kilos, and stone (she preferred to weigh herself in stone), and the importance of good household help. She was constantly straightening the framed fine art that hung all over her house, noting, “The help always knocks them off-kilter when they dust. It’s their way of showing that they’ve been here.”

Despite having daily maid service, Rosemary insisted upon doing all of her own laundry in a state-of-the-art Siemens washing machine that cost as much as a car. “Always buy German washers,” she’d instructed me. “Nothing will get your clothes cleaner. Worth the expense.” She drove a German car, too (an Audi), and had a private valet park it for her in a garage across the street. It never occurred to her that I didn’t have the money for any of these kinds of luxuries.

Rosemary also saw a high-priced Freudian psychoanalyst five days a week, to the tune of five hundred bucks a session, and didn’t understand why everyone didn’t do this. Ditto for why I and most of my female classmates were worried whether our expensive graduate degrees would actually transfer to gainful employment. “Don’t worry about that,” she’d tell me. “Money things always just work themselves out.”

Well, maybe they did for her.

When Rosemary wasn’t having me sleep over at her Astor Street penthouse, where her nearby neighbors included Marilyn Miglin (and her husband, Lee Miglin, who was killed in his neighboring townhouse by Andrew Cunanan in the summer of 1997; Cunanan later killed Gianni Versace), and even Oprah Winfrey, she took me shopping. She bought me a sterling Tiffany bracelet on a whim one day when we passed the Magnificent Mile store and I casually mentioned I’d wanted to own something from Tiffany’s ever since I was a child.

“It’s terribly sad nobody’s ever bought you any Tiffany,” she’d remarked after buying me the trinket and handing it over in its pale blue bag. “Imagine! How could anyone be so deprived!”

Rosemary was the queen of clueless-privilege statements like this. It astounded her that I had a job and paid my own rent on my crappy North Side apartment, which could have fit inside one of her bathrooms. “You shouldn’t have to do that, why aren’t your parents supporting you until you get married?” she’d say, and then take me to a lunch of caviar. smoked salmon, and capers at her private club.

I had trouble with this, since Rosemary often confessed she’d herself had an ordinary middle-class upbringing—did she not remember what it was like? When I complained about how my massive student loan burden was causing me financial hardship, she brushed it off and said, “Someday, Jill, you’ll meet a man who will take care of that for you. You’re pretty, it’s only a matter of time.”

That last remark really rubbed me the wrong way. I thought of myself as a feminist. And after watching my mother descend into poverty and madness after my father left her in much the same way as the fictional Blanche Dubois and Jasmine Francis had, I always swore I’d never let the same thing happen to me. Depending on a man for money just wasn’t in my vocabulary. Rosemary didn’t understand this at all.

In the summer of 1998, Rosemary and her husband suddenly decided that their vast Astor Street penthouse was too large for just the two of them, and announced plans to downsize. For reasons I still don’t understand, they took me along when they went penthouse-shopping on Lake Shore Drive. I toured one million-dollar view after another, and listened in while they asked realtors if the condo associations would let them tear down walls and install a laundry room large enough to accommodate Rosemary’s giant Siemens machine.

They eventually decided to stay put on Astor Street, but took the liberty of giving my name and number to their realtor. “Jill really needs better accommodations,”I heard Rosemary sneer to the saleslady under her breath as we left the last vacant multimillion-dollar property they’d rejected.

That was the beginning of the end.

The day after the penthouse-shopping fiasco, Rosemary invited me to go to Oak Street Beach with her, where we lounged beside Lake Michigan, mostly chatting and flipping through magazines, though we did take a brief dip in the lake. It was a hot day and I found the chilly water refreshing, but Rosemary just said, “It’s not the Mediterranean, Jill. You really should go there and try it out, it’s so much better than here.”

Rosemary and Dave cruised the Mediterranean on their very own private yacht every summer, and they went that summer too. But they didn’t invite me.

When they returned from that trip, Rosemary and I had a minor argument over my lackluster social life. I had a roommate, which she found absurd, and she didn’t care for my boyfriend. Meanwhile, I made the mistake of saying that I didn’t approve of how her husband often referred to working mothers as “neglectful” in my presence. We had exactly the kind of spat that mothers and daughters often have, but unlike real mothers and daughters, we never made up.

Not long after, Rosemary stopped returning my calls. I left apologetic message after apologetic message on her answering machine, but she soon changed her number.  I ran into her on the street once months later, and she pretended not to recognize me.

I was no longer the daughter Rosemary never had. Then again, I’m not sure I ever was. I was really more of a pet. Or maybe I was just a cheap street curio that she tossed in the garbage bin after she got bored with me. I’ll never know.

On a whim, I Googled Rosemary last week, curious to know what became of her. I found her LinkedIn profile after only a few clicks. Since we last met, it seems she’s completed yet another master’s degree (her third) and a doctorate. She now lives on the West Coast and apparently works as a psychologist. That struck me as odd.

I then tried to discover if she was still married, and wasn’t able to find a definitive answer.

Let this be a lesson to all of you ladies (and men) reading this: a lifetime of wealth, privilege, and role as the pampered wife guarantees nothing. You must have something to fall back on, even if it is a pile of useless graduate degrees. You never know when you might actually have to use your education to support yourself, however distasteful working for a living might seem when you’re sailing the Mediterranean.


[*] Names and some identifying details changed.

Jill Elaine Hughes is a freelance journalist, novelist, and playwright based in Chicago. She’s written for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, the Washington Post, and many regional magazines.

www.jillelainehughes.com

Guest Post: Kerry Adrienne, on ARTIST’S TOUCH and the writing process

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Today we welcome my fellow Ellora’s Cave author Kerry Adrienne to the blog. She’s here to tell us about her latest release, ARTIST’S TOUCH, and writing in general. Welcome, Kerry!
 
I see you have a very hot-looking new book, ARTIST’S TOUCH, out right now. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, as well as the book itself? And provide buy links?  Looking forward to your response!
——
Kerry says:

I think, for most authors, books develop a little differently each time they write a new one. Sometimes, the plot appears in a perfect and pretty arc and it’s just a matter of setting the characters on the path. Sometimes, it’s a wisp of plot, an integral scene that the writer has to write the book to. Or maybe a writer is inspired to write to a theme, a symbol, or even a mood—at least in the beginning of the process. I think most will tell you that books often change as you write them, regardless of how you start.

Artist’s Touch was purely a character-driven book for me. I had met Wally, or at least the inspiration for Wally in real life. He wouldn’t leave me alone—in my mind. My friend and I talked about Wally (not his real name) and parts of his “personality” evolved.

 As the weeks went on, I began wondering what had led Wally to working in a bar. I wondered what Wally wanted, what his dreams were, what his fears were. Then, I wanted to make Wally happy. This was where the plotting of the novel began. Enter Kenon. At first meeting, Kenon is everything Wally doesn’t need—or so it appears. Where Wally is shy, Kenon is loud and out-going. Brash. Flashy. Still, Wally is attracted to him, cause he’s hot and mysterious and dangerous.

Of course Kenon has a heck of a lot of his own issues to deal with, but once Kenon appeared, his character just filled in all the answers to Wally’s questions. After that, the plot for the novel was easier (it’s never EASY, at least not for me).

I really enjoyed letting the character lead the story, and that’s what I’m doing in the next book in the series. First, I developed the characters as much as I could (not with charts and such, but with vignettes and little bits), then I stuck them in the bathtub together (my version of letting them marinate) to see how they’d get along. They stayed in the tub a long time before they got out to tell their story. Sculptor’s Desire is coming soon.

 
Artist’s Touch

The Guild, book one (Sculptor’s Desire and Guitarist’s Wish coming soon!)

By Kerry Adrienne

Blurb:

Every starlet wants master painter Kenon Alavi to do her portrait…and more. But Kenon prefers firm to soft and sates his desires with the boyfriends of the women he paints, enjoying the diversity of many lovers but shunning any attachments.

Wallace Harte’s English degree isn’t helping him find a job and working at a bar is the closest he’s gotten to being the Second Coming of Faulkner. Something’s gotta give soon or he’ll be out on the street.

Kenon zeroes in on the bartender at an art exhibition, intending to add him to his long list of conquests, but Wally bolts, initiating a heated game of cat and mouse. Kenon delights in the game until he discovers what Wally is writing. Feeling betrayed, Kenon swears off all entanglements until he reads Wally’s story and discovers true love is sometimes between the pages and not the sheets.

Inside Scoop: This book contains hot, sexy scenes of M/M interaction of an artistic nature. Who knew having your portrait painted could be so hot?

Add Artist’s Touch to your Goodreads’ shelf HERE. 

About the Author:

Kerry Adrienne writes about love in its many forms, and enjoys exploring the dynamics of relationships and the quandaries people get themselves into. She lives in suburbia, but is making plans to escape to the ocean and NYC, as both places hold a piece of her heart.

You can connect with Kerry here:

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Pinterest

 

You can purchase Artist’s Touch here:

Ellora’s Cave

Kerry Adrienne

Book Review: FOREVER & ALWAYS, by Jasinda Wilder, plus some commentary on indie publishing success

FOrever&always As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m hoping to post more book reviews here on the blog. And since I also blog a lot about the business of indie publishing and the writing life in general, what better way to cover all three than to discuss a book by indie-publishing phenom Jasinda Wilder?

I’d followed Ms. Wilder’s career for a while but I hadn’t actually read any of her books yet (her big breakout hit, FALLING INTO YOU, was still in my gargantuan TBR pile at the time) when one day I noticed she put a call out on Facebook for bloggers willing to review her latest release, FOREVER & ALWAYS. I of course jumped at the chance. I was fascinated at how popular she’d become in such a short time, plus we both write in the same genre (New Adult/erotic romance), so on a whim, I sent her a message and a link to my blog, requesting a review copy. I figured she was inundated with requests and therefore wouldn’t oblige me or this humble blog, but to my surprise, she replied right away and provided the ARC, and even chatted with me a bit over email. Even if she hadn’t responded to my request for an ARC, I probably would have just bought the book and reviewed it anyway (since I purchase most of the books I review here and elsewhere), but I digress.

I found Ms. Wilder to be personable, polite, and very willing to share tips about indie publishing with me, even though we’d never met face-to-face. I presented myself to her as a working journalist (which I am), and approached our email chat just like any other interview I would conduct for any other article I was writing as a reporter. We ended up trading several emails back and forth, and she gave me some really great advice on how to succeed writing indie romance fiction. She not only shared some articles and other writing tips with me, she told me the secret to her and her husband/writing partner Jack Wilder’s indie publishing success was very simple: “Write a series, and make the first book free.” (her exact words)

To wit, FOREVER & ALWAYS is the first book in her latest series, The Ever Trilogy, and at press time, it is also currently FREE on Amazon. (Jasinda’s business model in action!) So, what did I think of the book?

Review:

FOREVER & ALWAYS is the story of Caden and Ever, two high-school kids who meet for the first time as summer arts-camp students at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan when they are both fifteen. Both of them have troubled home lives; Ever’s mother died of cancer the year before, and her father deals with his grief by burying himself in his work while ignoring Ever and her twin sister, Eden. Meanwhile, sensitive artist Caden has trouble finding his place in his own extended family, with an engineer father and a macho Wyoming-rancher grandfather, where he has spent the past several summers. Arts camp is a change for him, and he struggles between his desire to indulge his budding artistic abilities and his love for the rugged Wyoming ranch life, where it has long been expected he will take over for his grandfather someday. The chemistry between Ever and Caden is instant and immediate, though they only spend a few hours alone together at summer camp, just making idle chat and drawing portraits of one another. Caden is inspired by Ever’s colorful, impressionistic painting style, while she is enthralled with his uber-realistic drawing technique. Even in these very brief and early encounters, where they don’t even so much as kiss, their “opposites attract” chemistry is almost immediate, even though neither of them is sexually awakened yet.  They part ways after camp is over, barely knowing one another, but agree to become pen pals. Not email pals, not Facebook pals, either—-old-fashioned, handwritten letter pals.

The book switches back and forth between the two main characters’ points of view, and includes their heartfelt letters to one another, where they each reveal their innermost emotional struggles as they bridge the gap between the giddy teen years and adulthood. This is one of the most effective and touching parts of the book—-part stream-of-consciousness narrative, part epistolary novel, Wilder expertly captures the depth of teenage angst, which is especially deep given the trials and tribulations they both most endure, especially as Caden, like Ever, loses first his mother, and then his father a short time later. They exchange letters back and forth for five years without seeing one another, have their first romantic affairs with other people, go to college—-and yet, fall in love without even realizing it. Ever calls it “a literary love,” and she couldn’t be more right.

Though the book takes place in the present day, it reminds me of passionate Victorian novels that rely heavily on heartfelt letters exchanged over long distances, romances that developed sight-unseen on pure emotion rather than physical attraction. That kind of romance seems more genuine somehow, since the relationship develops outside the physical sphere and all the superficial biases that can develop when we just think someone is cute. Which is not to say that Ever and Caden don’t eventually get physical—-they do, in some of the hottest sex scenes you’ll ever read—-but when they finally consummate their relationship after so many years of letter-writing, it’s so raw, so real, that it literally brings tears to the reader’s eyes.

I found myself reliving my own teen years through this book as well, seeing a lot of myself in Ever. I too spent much of my time in high school drawing and painting, deep in an inner world where I preferred the company of art supplies and canvases to other people, as I worked through the dark emotions that came from my very unstable family life. I had a long-distance relationship with a boy a few years older than I that we carried on mostly by letter, too. (This was in the 80s, way before email and cell phones, when sending handwritten notes between teens was commonplace). I also went to arts camp (not at Interlochen, though several of my college classmates went there), and I grew up not far from where much of the book takes place. All of these old feelings came rushing to the surface as I read this book, which is testament to how good a writer Wilder is. Not only that, the book has a tragic, tearjerker ending and a big cliffhanger that will have you begging for the next installment.

Long story short, bring your hankies and prepare to become enthralled. FOUR STARS.

Given Wilder’s writing skill, not to mention her ability to penetrate deep into her readers’ psyches, it’s no wonder she’s become so popular so quickly. For more information on Wilder’s writing career and tremendous success, check out this video from CreateSpace,
and this one from Writer.ly . She and her co-writer/husband Jack discuss their joint publishing journey and writing processes in these videos. Fascinating stuff.

Peace.

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