Roz Chast – just saying her name makes me smile. The lady is a cartoonist who has published more than 800 cartoons in The New Yorker magazine. She also publishes cartoons in Scientific American and The Harvard Business Review. I feel somewhat related to her not that I ever created a cartoon. Chast grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn not far from where I grew up. She was the only child of an Assistant Principal and a high school teacher. The talented gal graduated from Midwood High School not too far from my school, New Utrecht. Whenever I read The New Yorker I look for Chast’s work. Her subjects frequently deal with domestic and family life. Her interior scenes often involve lamps and accentuated wallpaper to serve as the backdrop for her comics. Chast’s drawing style sometimes shows oddly shaped small objects. It’s easy for me to spot her figure drawings. The artistic lady’s New Yorker cartoons began as small black-and-white panels but increasingly she’s been using color and her work now appears on several pages. Roz Chast has written and illustrated more than a dozen books. A significant part of the humor in her cartoons appear in the background and the corners of the frame, her comic style reflecting a conspiracy of inanimate objects, an expression she credits to her mother. She states that graphic memoirs/novels are very inspiring to her. Chast also enjoys reading contemporary fiction and long older novels. One of her pleasures is listening to audio books while embroidering. “That’s my idea of a really good time.” That’s where our differences are even more apparent. I never hooked a rug or embroidered. Ah — I finally found a real connection. She says “my cooking is terrible.” Mine, too! This year she received the Alumni Award for Artistic Achievement at the Rhode Island School of Design commencement ceremony. The super talented gal in recognition of her work was listed by the Comic’s Alliance as one of 12 women cartoonists. It’s a lifetime achievement recognition. Her recent book, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is a graphic memoir, combining cartoons, text and photographs to tell the story of an only child helping her elderly parents navigate the end of their lives. Sounds serious from a lady with a fabulous sense of humor. I hope my library has that book.
The very name, Matt LeBlanc, sounds as if it was made up for a television comedy. But no!, Matt was named by a French-Canadian father and an Italian-American mother. I became aware of the actor in his role on the sitcom “Friends” where he played the dim-witted womanizing, but ultimately lovable actor, Joey Tribbiani. That program ran from 1994 to 2004. Next came a fictionalized version of himself in “Episodes,” a Showtime TV series. In it he portrayed a satirical description of himself and won a Best Actor award. “Episodes” remained distinguished mostly by Matt LeBlanc’s gameness in playing the jaundiced utterly self-absorbed version of himself. It was a classic stereotype of a sitcom star with an oversized ego. That program turned out to be a tired satire of Hollywood – well, fairly tired. It had its final session in August. One can still watch it since it’s on Showtime. When the actor was asked what he plans to do next he was quoted as saying “Maybe it’s time to slow down and smell the roses.” But he didn’t! His latest sitcom is “Man with a Plan.” Perhaps now he can take a nap if that proves to be an erudite comedy but not so dumbed down and tattered. LeBlanc admits that he needs the time to enjoy driving his Porsche 911. He’s earned it.
It’s easy for me to remember being thrilled when I graduated from the children’s library card to one that permitted me to go to the adult section. As a young age author Joan Didion had to get permission from her mother to borrow adult books, especially biographies. The author recalled writing things down as early as age five though she never saw herself as a writer until after having been published. She read everything she could get her hands on once she learned to read. Didion’s family was constantly being relocated because her father was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. She wrote in her 2003 memoir “Where I Was From” that frequent moving so often made her feel like a perpetual outsider. When asked to list her occupation she said “novelist, memorrist, essayist.” Some five years ago Didion wrote about aging and death with the anxiety she experienced after adopting and raising a child. Her style has been criticized as “the subject is always herself.” Why not? She received the National Book Foundation annual medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. “The Year of Magical Thinking” has been said to be “a masterpiece of two genres: memoir and investigative journalism.” Among many other awards she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Harvard University. It was followed a few years later by Yale University rendering another honorary Doctor of Letters. President Barack Obama named Joan Didion as one of the recipients of the National Medal of Arts and Humanity. The writer/novelist is a judge of herself. She examines the truth as she sees it. Perhaps she is best known for her work in one genre – memoirs. The precision and compactness of Joan Didion’s prose is her own – it’s all very revealing and interesting. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work. She no longer lives in New York City. She explains why: “New York is a city of only the very rich and the very poor – also a city only for the very young.” I personally found that to be very true. She identifies herself as being a “shy, bookish child” who pushed herself to overcome her social anxiety through acting and public speaking. Even though you didn’t ask for my advice I suggest that you don’t read the work of Joan Didion just before you go to sleep.
Do you enjoy the songs that Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett and many other talents recorded? They are the classics that still give pleasure to many and that’s just mentioning a few: “Easy to Love,” “Friendship,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” ‘It’s De-lovely” and so many more. Well, all of these wonderful songs are due to the artistry of Cole Porter. His songs and lyrics are relevant today. Although he gained talent as a writer of songs for the theater and movies, Cole Porter was a trained musician who studied at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. In 1937 he had a severe riding accident which crippled him. However, after many operations he continued to live his life in a great deal of pain. Amazingly, with his physical problems he was able to compose such witty, carefree Broadway scores for “Anything Goes” and “DuBarry Was a Lady,” as well as for the films “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Can-Can.” “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking; now, heaven knows, anything goes. Good authors who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose – anything goes. The world has gone mad today – and good’s bad today and black’s white today — and day’s night today.” These lyrics were written in the 1930s but still seem relevant today. On TCM we can still hear Cole Porter’s songs. There are two films in which Cary Grant (Night and Day) and Kevin Kline (It’s De-lovely) play the lead roles as Cole Porter. All of the above adds to the reason why Cole Porter is now part of our national heritage. I wish there was a way to say “Thank you, thank you. Your music continues to add joy to our lives.” Excuse me now because I’m going to sit down at my baby grand, and you can easily guess whose songs I’m going to enjoy playing.
You can e-mail June Sturz at firstname.lastname@example.org