Tuesday, February 22, 2011


A few months ago, some research led from a whim to a tangent to a total irrelevancy until I found myself at the reserve desk of my library picking up eight books I had just requested on Mary Lincoln. “Oh, someone’s got a research paper due, I see” the librarian said to me. I smiled and I nodded. What could I say? Certainly not the truth—just obsessed.

How do writers find ideas? Well, sometimes they find you. And sometimes they won’t leave you alone. And sometimes, the subject begins to manifest itself in everything in your life and your family members can become a wee bit concerned.

For example, when you realize that your daughter is the same height as Mary Lincoln and her boyfriend is the exact same height as Abraham Lincoln and you think this is the most splendid coincidence ever. You then suggest, completely seriously, that it would be magnificent to locate a large hoop skirt and a stovepipe hat for them to wear. You don’t understand why they don’t look more enthusiastic.
Or you start watching the film version of an excellent theatrical performance by Julie Harris as Mary Lincoln. While viewing, family members stop by and become interested in the movie and watch for a bit. But you keep interrupting, figuring out what Mary is about to say, because you’ve already read most of her letters and you know what line must come next.

As you read more, you take a lot of notes. But you feel obligated to write out “Abraham” and never “Abe” having now read multiple times and feeling confident in the truth of the fact that Mr. Lincoln, and certainly not Mary, could never abide by that nickname. You wonder if “A.Lincoln” would be all right for note taking purposes.

People find some of your references to Mary amusing but certainly not all of them. They don’t seem as certain as you do that everything that happened between Mary and Mr. Lincoln is interesting or relevant to understanding how we think and feel about life in general. They think, perhaps, you might be seeing into things too much.

Then one night, you’re in a noisy pizza place with a TV on behind you and suddenly your daughter freezes up and looks like she’s seen a ghost. You turn around just in time to see them.

It's not a talking gecko. It's all about Mary. As with all good non fiction, you just can't make this stuff up.


Cheryl Harness said...

I love this - and that commercial! And how could anyone NOT be interested in the saga of the Belle of Lexington and the slow train wreck that was the last chapter of her life? Julie Harris always was terrific. Still, I'm not sure that the role of Mrs. Lincoln has ever been perfectly cast. One of the worst was Ruth Gordon opposite Raymond Massey. Remarkable person, completely terrific as Maude, beloved of Harold, but as Mrs. Lincoln - not so much. Mary Tyler Moore [opp. the great Sam Waterston] not much better. Hmm. As Widow Lincoln, methinks I'd vote for Kathy Bates.... And I think that if your daughter knew how much fun it was to swish about in a hoop skirt she'd change her mind in a hurry!

Linda Salzman said...

Mary Tyler Moore? Oh, no no no. And Ruth Gordon was actually too short, as if that could be possible. *Runs off to track down Kathy Bates version on Netflix.*

Anna M. Lewis said...

Great post, Linda!
As you can guess, I feel the same way about artists. Can't get enough. Why, oh why, is that? Hmmm...

Steve Sheinkin said...

I'm all for obsessions. For quite a while I became fascinated by what I saw as the incredible and undiscovered similarities between the lives of Benedict Arnold and Lancelot, the Arthurian knight. I'm glad that's over. But there's always a new obsession around the corner - and that's a good thing, I say.