Tag Archives: New York

Pianist in New York 1948…Friday Fictioneers.

The photo could’ve been taken yesterday. It hadn’t faded at all. Standing at the very top of the Empire State Building on the eve of her New York debut, she was a wife, mother of three little boys liberated from her domestic chains through her prodigious talent. Perched all 102 floors above the ground, what was she thinking? Was she feeling alone and thinking of home? Or, had New York waved its magic wand, cast her under its spell? I don’t know.  I came along much too late in the conversation, and have only been left with the photograph.

……..

Eunice Empire State Building 1948

Eunice Gardiner at the Empire State Building 1948.

In 1948, my grandmother Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner made her debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. She spent something like a year touring USA and Canada leaving her husband, mother  and three young boys back in Australia. The two older boys went to boarding school and my Dad, aged 3, stayed at home with Gran, my grandfather and a housekeeper. Before I had my own kids, I didn’t understand how she could go to New York by herself like that and leave them behind. I have had a few moments in my parenting journey where a solo trip to New York would’ve been blessed relief, but I couldn’t have gone for a year…even to pursue a writing career.

While I don’t know a lot about my grandmother’s time in New York, there are a few newspaper articles and I thought I’d include this funny story:


‘Burglar’ Was A Pianist

NEW YORK, Mon. (O.S.R.). — While Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner, was practising in a friend’s home, a snow-covered policeman rushed in with re revolver drawn. The policeman, who was even more surprised than the pianist explained that neighbors had put an emergency call into the’ police station that a burglar was in the house. “They said that the window was open and the radio playing,’ he added apologetically. Eunice Gardiner said that blizzard or no blizzard, she had to have fresh air occasionally.

Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Tuesday 20 January 1948, page 2

Eunice 1948 USA

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948. I’ll have to go looking for the photo on the Empire State Building.

This is another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields This week’s photo prompt PHOTO PROMPT ©Jill Wisoff

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought you might also be interested in seeing  Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York Series, which I touched on recently during the A-Z Challenge.

O- Georgia O’Keeffe: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge

“I hate flowers – I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.”
Georgia O’Keeffe in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1981

As you may be aware, I am currently taking part in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, and my theme this year is: Writing Letters to Dead Artists. The overall concept is to explore the artists who have touched me through a particular work and then pose them a question. They then send me a reply, and even I’ve been surprised by what they’ve come back with, because much of it has been news to me. So, you can make of that what you will.

Today, I’ll be writing to American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who has taken me beyond the bustling streets of New York and up into its iconic, soaring skyscrapers which she loved to paint from the ground looking up like teeny Jack staring up at the Giant. I have never been to New York, and yet I’ve sung and danced to the song with absolute gusto  to a band called Paris Dumper at The Nag’s Head, an English-style pub in Sydney’s Glebe. It was always their closing song, and an electric end to a great night out.

So, Frank Sinatra’s New York. New York is the ideal musical accompaniment today.

Please excuse my ignorance, but I only stumbled across Georgia O’Keeffe two weeks ago when I was desperately hunting down dead artists to fill vacant letters of the alphabet for this challenge. I feel a little remiss in not getting to know her sooner. However, my justification is that I’m Australian, and art seems to be a bit of a nationalistic thing. We don’t always get exposed to artists from other countries. Moreover, my poor, overstretched brain also has its limits. You can’t know everyone. That said, one of the things I love about writing, is how my limits are continuously stretching and expanding, hungrily devouring fodder like a starving teen fueling a growth spurt.

Poppy Untitled 1970 oil

Georgia O’Keeffe Untitled 1970 oil.

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) has been described as “the mother of American modernism”. Yet, within this framework, her subject matter is quite diverse. Indeed, there’s so much more to her, than just her infamous, flower portraits. A few nights ago, I was stoked to stumble across her series of New York Skyscrapers 1925-29. These were painted while she and her famous photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, were living in a 30th floor apartment in the Shelton Hotel, one of New York’s first residential skyscrapers. It had a gobsmacking view across the city, and they really were living and breathing the New York vibe. In 1929, O’Keeffe made her first trip to New Mexico, where she made love to the rugged, arid landscape, and it soon became an integral part of herself. After her Stieglitz’s death in 1946, she moved to Abiquiu full-time. She lived there until her final few years, when she moved to Santa Fe where she died on the 6th March, 1986.

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe

That’s the condensed version. You see, I’m keen to continue on our travels, focusing more upon the road less travelled, than regurgitating biographical facts. Indeed, I’m much more interested in getting to know Georgia O’Keeffe the woman instead. I never expected this to be easy. However, when I scratched the surface, she burst into a thousand pieces, which have been very hard to put into any kind of order or structure to create a cohesive portrait. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it would’ve been much less work and mental angst, if she could’ve stayed between the lines.

No discussion of Georgia O’Keeffe is complete without mentioning her husband…the famous photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who gave O’Keeffe her big break.

Georgia O'Keeffe New York Night

Georgia O’Keeffe, New York Night 1929. I have always marvelled at this little boxes of light through the darkness, signalling somebody’s home and wondered who is there, what they are doing. each box is like an illuminated mystery.

Stieglitz created and managed New York City’s internationally famous 291 Gallery located at 291 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. While Stieglitz was at the forefront of photography, he also introduced some of the most avant-garde European artists of the time to the United States. These included:  Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, and the Dadaists Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. This was clearly a man who knew his art. Knew his artists, and was very well connected.

Radiator Building-Night NY 1927

In early 1916, Anita Pollitzer, a friend of O’Keeffe’s, showed Stieglitz a series of her highly innovative charcoal abstractions. He found them to be the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while”. In April 1916, Stieglitz exhibited ten of her drawings at 291 without her knowledge. At his request, she moved to New York in 1918 and their professional relationship soon became personal. She was 28 at the time and he was 52. She also became his photographic muse. In 1924, after he’d divorced his wife, they were married. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were prolific letter writers and exchanged around 25,000 pieces of paper between them…a mind-boggling volume of correspondence, which covered the highs and lows of their relationship.

At this point, perhaps it’s pertinent to mention O’Keeffe’s battles with mental health issues, which were exacerbated by her husband’s affair with Dorothy Norman, who he called ”Dorothy-child.” Yet, despite this apparent confidence, apparently she experienced anxiety all her life. Yet, instead of making it her prison, she went on and did what she wanted to do regardless.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Indeed, I wonder whether she might’ve known Dorothy Parker’s poem: Resume written in 1928:

 

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

I tend to feel this earlier O’Keeffe is almost a complete contrast to the fiercely independent, tenacious woman she became in later life, even before her husband’s death. Indeed, I can almost hear her singing from her grave: I Did It My Way.

georgia-okeeffe with her car

This freedom could best be symbolized by her car, which she adapted into a mobile studio and was a critical necessity for her trips to and from New Mexico. As Carolyn Kastner, curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum explained:

“She would remove the driver’s seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger seat, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford.[1]

After all, the heat in New Mexico was intense and she’d paint with the windows down, until the bees became a nuisance and she’d wind them up until the heat became too much and she headed home.

Georgia O'Keeffe Painting in her car at Ghost Ranch New Mexico

Georgia O’Keeffe painting in her car studio at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

 

As much as I don’t really like driving, it does provide that sense of freedom, which can really only be surpassed by learning to fly. There’s a huge part of me, which would love to jump in the car and escape somewhere and immerse myself in my writing, photography and possibly even paint. Indeed, playing my violin somewhere out in the middle of Australia’s Nullarbor Desert has a strange appeal, although my preferred escape has been driving a Kombi up to Byron Bay and going for a surf. The fact that I can’t surf or drive a Kombi has done nothing to dampen this dream, although now that the kids are getting older and my health isn’t quite so dire, it’s been awhile since I’ve been indulging in some Kombi dreaming.

I’m sure many of us indulge in some form of escapism, and I guess that’s where TV can take you on a thousand journeys without even leaving your chair. That ease of entertainment, I guess is something to watch out for. Living vicariously through a screen is a poor substitute for living and going on real life adventures of your own, instead of living through someone else.

Speaking of living, I’d better get on with this letter to Georgia O’Keeffe.

Envelope to Georgia O'Keeffe

 

A Letter to Georgia O’Keeffe

Dear Georgia,

A few short week’s ago, I’d barely heard of you, and yet now I’m in raptures. Not just with your paintings, especially your New York Skyscraper series, but with you as a person who was such a strident individual with your own ideas, and yet there was also your marriage to Alfred, with it’s 2500 pieces of paper, the photographs, his affair and then how he didn’t want to sell your paintings. He wanted to keep them all for himself. I’d also love to pile into your Model T with you and drive from New York to New Mexico. I’ve never ever been to America, but there’s something about America and the big road trip which has a certain magic and reminds me of my many trips across Australia’s Nullarbor Plain on my travels between Sydney and Perth. I’d better warn you though. I hope you like having plenty of stops, because I’ve never been an A-B traveller. I always have to stop.

Well, that assumes that I’d be driving the car, which is probably very doubtful. Something tells me that you wouldn’t hand over the keys to your beloved studio on wheels under any circumstances. That said, I think your eyesight started failing later in life so perhaps I would be driving after all.

Georgia, you’re such a woman of contrasts, that it’s hard for me to get my head around the seismic shifts in your works. While my personal favourites hail from your New York Skyscraper Series, my question relates more to the contrast between your mesmerizingly beautiful flower paintings, and the desolate bone paintings who carried out at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. There’s such a gulf between the two. Could you please explain?!!

There’s so much more I could ask you, but this might well be the beginning of our own series of 2,500 pieces of paper. You never know. I have a hell of a lot of questions and who knows, perhaps you might just have a few of the answers.

By the way, did you happen to meet up with Australian artist, Sidney Nolan? I wrote to him yesterday. While I focused on his Ned Kelly Series, about an Australian bushranger, he also did a series set in the Australian outback about doomed Australian explorers, Burke and Wills. I think the two of you should go on a long car trip together and see what you can come up with. You might even what to take along his mate, Russell Drysdale and author Patrick White, although the last I heard Nolan and White had a falling out. However, one hopes those petty earthly squabbles would all get ironed out somewhere along the between heaven and Earth.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Georgia O’Keeffe

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your energetic letter. I could sense your uncontained enthusiasm in each and every word. Indeed, your unstoppable energy reminded me of myself. No doubt, you also have something of my nervous energy, which was a positive negative force throughout my entire life. It drove me forward. I wouldn’t let it hold me back, but there were those times it overwhelmed me like a wave and swept me under.

Sometimes, I wonder if people don'[t have anything better to do than make up fantastic Freudian interpretations of my paintings, when my thinking was very practical. I painted flowers simply because they were there. They were cheaper than models and they don’t move. Quite frankly, I don’t know how my husband coped handled all those models. Sorry, I wasn’t going to go there. We both know what happened with that wretched Dorothy woman, although more than one of my so-called friends told me I’d got my comeuppance.  You don’t always think of that when you’re a young woman caught up in the throws of passion and you have this incredible, world famous photographer falling at your feet. I was just a girl from a wheat farm in Wisconsin, who was dazzled by the bright lights. That’s all.

Anyway, getting back to my paintings of the animal bones, it was the same as the flowers. The bones were scattered across the landscape and I gathered up a barrel of bones and took them home. This was around the time that they were hell bent on finding the greatest American novel, the greatest American play. Indeed, Superman was created in 1938. America was looking for heroes. This was my cheeky contribution to the quest. You’ll notice the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes in the painting.

You see, abstract works aren’t always so cryptic as you might think, and I encourage you to release your inhibitions and preconceived ideas and explore more abstract works for yourself. Find your own meaning, if you must. Or, simply enjoy them for what they are.

By the way, I heard you gave up on art as a child because you couldn’t draw your dog. What a pity. No one should ever give up painting, drawing and expressing their inner world through art. It’s just like dancing, which I’ve heard you’ve embraced now that you’re almost 50 and battling this dermatowhatwhat disease. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but why do they give these rare diseases such long unpronounceable names? Humph…dermatowhat what…ther’s subject for an abstract work. How would you paint it?

See, I got you back with a tough question of my own!

Best wishes,

Georgia.

PS Rowena, you don’t need a Kombi to go off the grid and you don’t need to drive to the end of the Earth either. You live in such an inspirational part of the world, surrounded by beaches, the ocean but also the bush. Don’t tell me you have nothing to paint!

Sources & Further Reading

[1] https://www.c-span.org/video/?310650-1/life-artwork-georgia-okeeffe

Wikipaedia

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

https://www.biography.com/people/georgia-okeeffe-9427684

http://artreport.com/exploring-mental-health-through-art/

Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition at Tate Modern

When The New Yorker Came To Sydney.

Last week, I was absolutely stoked when I found a copy of the New Yorker when I took our daughter to her doctor’s appointment, instead of the usual trashy magazines. For a New Yorker, this would be hardly surprising but when you’re in Sydney, Australia, finding a copy of The New Yorker is a rare treat. It was time to celebrate!

Who hasn’t experienced the joy of being camped at the doctor’s waiting so long you’re putting down roots and all you have is a stack of trashy magazines for entertainment?  I’m sure the world over there are those familiar looking piles of trashy magazines, which should have been pulped long before publication. You know the sort of stuff I’m talking about where those flashy, glossy pages are smothered in the latest “Kardashian Krisis” and other celebrity crap. If you’re really lucky, there might also be some token National Geographics but don’t hold your breath!!

Knowing what to expect, I always BYO. Whenever I head down to Sydney for my specialist appointments, I usually take a choice of two books, a handful of pens and a writing pad to capture fleeting threads of inspiration. I must say that on some occasions, I’ve been bunkering down to write what seems like my entire life story, while I wait. It is nothing to wait for 1-2 hours for an appointment and indeed, there is a sign telling you to allow half a day. All this endless interminable waiting is all for a fleeting 15-30 minute appointment. While this might sound pretty dreadful, especially if you are seeing multiple specialists, it is what it is. I see my specialists for free so I’m not complaining. I just come prepared.

However, I can sure pick the newbies turning various shades of red and emitting shots of steam through their beetroot red ears while they openly complain that “being sick is a full time job”. Most of them could well be transferred to Emergency for immediate anger management. That said, being diagnosed with a serious disease is hard enough. Being forced to spend those precious, rapidly ticking away last minutes of your imminently evaporating life in the bland boredom of a doctor’s waiting room staring at white walls camouflaged by fancy prints, is enough to push even the most mild-mannered Clark Kent over the edge!! Trust me! I know!

I don't think hospital was on Dr Suess's list.

I don’t think hospital was on Dr Suess’s list.

Of course, nobody includes being stuck in a doctor’s waiting room on their bucket list when they have 24 hours to live! Not on your life!!!

However, all my expectations of waiting room literature were turned around last week when I took our daughter to her specialist appointment. Much to my delighted amazement, I found a copy of The New Yorker on the very top of the pile. Wow! I was thrilled. Indeed, “I had chills.  They’re multiplying and I’m losing control…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J01QPxZFlw4

A cartoon from the New Yorker, which  I photographed on my phone.

A cartoon from the New Yorker, which I photographed on my phone.

The New Yorker is a rare breed in Australia so I was almost thankful that the doctor was late. I was glued to the pages and really had to peel myself away. Indeed, I was even taking photos of the funnies with my phone and seriously hoping the doctor didn’t catch me in the act. Of course, I was doing this in the name of serious journalism…snapping gourmet morsels to feed my blog!

The Statue of Liberty welcomes this adventurous Aussie Dreamer to the Big Apple.

The Statue of Liberty welcomes this adventurous Aussie Dreamer to the Big Apple.

For a few fantastic moments there, I felt myself being transported over the Pacific Ocean touching down for a refueling stopover in Hawaii to meet Max the Dog and indulge in a bit of Hula. Then, I was on a bit of a stop start journey through LA, New Orleans, Washington and finally touching down in New York in such a manner that I didn’t get my Wonder Woman cape caught on one of those spiky bits on the Statue of Liberty.

Just as well I didn't start singing and dancing in the waiting room! I have absolutely no shame!

Just as well I didn’t start singing and dancing in the waiting room! I have absolutely no shame!

I’m in New York and I can even hear Frank Sinatra singing New York New York: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-0nNWOKK2Q

Though still sitting in the waiting room, I’m a  real New Yorker or at least a New Yorker with an Australian accent. Well, make that a sedated New Yorker with an Australian accent. Being a rather slow walker who doesn’t wake up before midday without intravenous caffeine infusions, I’d look like a comatose zombie among the fast-paced New Yorkers.

But then the dream shatters…

The door swings open and all my fantasies of New York are put on hold. The doctor is ready and it’s now time to discuss why my daughter doesn’t eat.

Humph! No more New York…New York…New York!

I’ve touched down with a painful thump and it’s time for a brutal reality check!!

New York…LA,Honolulu,Sydney, Wahroonga….Can’t keep the doctor waiting!

The door closes.

Have you ever been to New York and have any stories to tell? I am learning the fine art of living vicariously.

xx Rowena

 

The Writer’s Journey… Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week I attended an author talk with Graeme Simsion, the author of the best-selling novels: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

While I have my dignity, I must confess that meeting Graeme Simsion sent me into something of a manic frenzy. I was uber-excited, although not quite to the level of Marcia Brady’s rapture when Davy Jones kissed her : “I can’t believe Davy Jones kissed me! I’ll never wash this cheek again.”

As you have probably gathered by now, I’ve really enjoyed the Rosie books and am almost frothing at the mouth telling everyone I meet to read them!

You could ask why meeting Graeme Simsion was such a rush. Yes, I loved the books but I have loved plenty of books. However, not all of the authors have bothered to talk locally in downtown Umina Beach, a place better known for its local caravan park and golden beach. While we live in a place of serene beauty, we are definitely off the beaten track when it comes to the author’s circuit. So, I was pretty impressed that he’d made the trip.

I walk in and spot Simsion at the desk signing books.

Any author encounter starts out pretty much the same. As I humbly approached Simsion with my books in hand, we make eye-contact. This is when you really get to size up what the author’s about. It’s also at this point, when you’re a bit in awe of their success that you’re tempted to start gushing. Tell them your entire life story and in this instance, tell him about every Don you’ve ever known and before you know it, you’re recommending starting a support group. I can assure you, that in my case I know an extensive list of Dons whose antics could’ve kept his pen poised ready to sign for many, many hours. However, I restrained myself and we got through the signing bit although I must admit that I did mention that I’m a writer and that I have a blog. I was just pleased that he didn’t ask me what I’d had published or how the stats on my blog were going. As a newly published author, he seems to understand that you don’t ask another writer such questions or he’d be at my book signing instead. After all, he knows just how long it can take for a writer to get where he is now.

Being a bit of a bold, intrepid admirer, I didn’t just ask him to sign the books. Rather, I went for the jugular, asking for a photo together. I’d heard it said on the X-Factor recently that the selfie is the new autograph. Anyway, when it comes to having my precious photo taken, I didn’t pull out your standard, garden-variety camera phone and go for the selfie. Oh no! Of course not! Nothing less than my Nikon SLR, which he noted was a serious camera…the photographic equivalent of Mick Dundee pulling out his knife in Crocodile Dundee. It might not have shown that I know how to write but at least my camera was impressive.

Anyway, as much as I love swanning around at literary events and having my photo taken with best-selling authors, I was there to learn. For me, writing is a serious business.

At this point, we all take to our seats for dinner and to hear what we’re all there for…the talk.

One of the things that struck me about Simsion’s journey as a writer is that he has been quite strategic, focused and methodical about how he was going to succeed. After all, he has run businesses and isn’t one of those writer’s you’d put in the dreamer category. While there were a few projects and attempts along the way, once he set his mind to it he enrolled in a screenwriting course at RMIT where The Rosie Project came to life. He decided submit it to the unpublished manuscript division of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and The Rosie Project won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Now, that’s a great way to get noticed! The manuscript was picked up by Text Publishing and he hasn’t looked back.

That is except to tell the story of his first author’s talk.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia viewed from the Indian Pacific Railway.

Simsion’s first author talk was held in a South Australian country town. He didn’t name the town but if you haven’t been through outback South Australia, you wouldn’t understand the meaning of isolation. South Australia is, after all, home to the sprawling and extremely isolated Nullarbor Plain colloquially known as the “Nullar-boring”. It includes the Nullarbor “town” of Cook which has a total population of 4 and it has a shop which only opens when the Indian-Pacific train is in town. Of course, Cook is hardly representative of South Australian towns. Beyond the capital Adelaide, there’s the Barossa Valley with its world class vineyards but why let a bit of truth get in the way of a good story? Let’s just say that Simsion’s launching pad was hardly New York.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg/270px-Cook-SouthAustralia.jpg

Cook, South Australia. Image Wiki Commons.

Filled with all the excitement and anticipation of giving his first talk, Simsion arrived at the local library. Much to his disappointment, the local bookseller turned up with only 10 copies of his book. When he queried this, he said: “You’re new at this, are you?” As Simsion anxiously waited for the hoards to arrive, only 8 senior ladies turned up mostly to catch up on local gossip and take advantage of the free morning tea. As if things weren’t already looking dismal enough, the local librarian then told the crowd that they didn’t have to buy the book. They could borrow it from the library. Great! However, Simsion who says that the support of “the local bookshop” has been pivotal to his success, turned things around encouraging his recalcitrant audience to buy books as gifts and the copies quickly sold out.

From these humble beginnings, The Rosie Project has since topped the Independent Bookseller lists and plans are in motion for the movie. Simsion is now very much in demand and is currently touring the country with over 80 author talks ahead and the books are selling like hot cakes!

Just goes to show that taking a chance, persistence, honing your craft and strategic thinking can really make that difference. Yet, you’ve now heard the man, Don’t forget to start getting pally with the owner of your local bookshop. Take them coffee. Indeed, I’d even recommend dropping off some quality chocolates. That way once you’ve finally managed to get that manuscript out here and published, you’ll already be best friends for life.

However, in the meantime, I need to get “the book” finished, which after a pause in proceedings probably means hitting “restart”.

But…

Watch out South Australia. I know where you are!

Have you been to any good author talks recently? Or perhaps, you’ve spoken at your own? Do tell!

xx Rowena

Who is Don Tillman? The Rosie Project Uncovered.

Who is Don Tillman?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since reading Graeme Simsion’s  best-selling novel, The Rosie Project and its sequel: The Rosie Effect.

Both books were written in the first person through the voice of Don Tillman, a quirky scientist who developed a questionnaire to find a wife.  This voice is perfectly maintained throughout, giving the book a strong autobiographical feel as though there is no author. Indeed, Simsion has climbed so deeply inside Don Tillman’s skin, that I had to ask…Is he Don Tillman? They’re seemingly one and the same.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, Don Tillman, reminds me of Sheldon from the hit TV series Big Bang Theory. Yet, although they’re birds of a feather, Don is very much his own man. Well, he would be his own man if I wasn’t questioning how much of the author went into the supposed character. I also have a tough time separating Sheldon the character  from actor Jim Parsons. They also seem so seamlessly the same.

However, while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Jim Parsons in real life, last Thursday night I had dinner with Graeme Simsion and my antennae were out. Was he Don Tillman? Or, as his creator, was he an exceptionally good impersonator?

So who is Don Tillman?

Don Tillman is an Associate-Professor of Genetics. He has an obsession with detail, is highly scheduled and when it comes to reading social situations,  he’s absolutely clueless. The crux of the book is that he’s looking for a wife. Having failed dismally at conventional dating, he’s now taking a purely logical approach and has devised a questionnaire to screen for potential wife candidates. He hypothesizes that the questionnaire will speed the process up by quickly eliminating unsuitable prospects and ultimately yielding the perfect wife.

The longer answer about Don’s identity is much more complex.

No doubt, Simsion has been asked many times if he’s Don Tillman, and came prepared. The answer is no. Apparently, the character of Don was inspired by a jogging buddy and the book, including the infamous yellow jacket incident, is based on true incidents. Yet, while Simsion denied that he is Don, he does admit to having some geek-like traits and concludes:

“There’s a bit of Don in all of us.”

Indeed, that’s the books’ appeal. That we’re not laughing at Don, but with him. We’ve been in his shoes at least once in our lifetimes, and know that dreadful, crushing all-consuming embarrassment when we make a mistake and all the dreadful, ensuing complications.

However, there are also those of us who have a bit more Don than most. Perhaps, that’s us. Or, perhaps it’s someone we love. Don is our Dad, a work colleague, our husband, a friend or even all of the above. Not that they necessarily recognize themselves in print. More than likely, they’ve also laughed through the book and missed seeing themselves in the mirror.

Apparently, that even includes Bill Gates. At the dinner, Simsion mentioned that Melinda Gates had given Bill the book:

“Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages out loud to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s an extraordinarily clever, funny, and moving book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. This is one of the most profound novels I’ve read in a long time.[1]

This, of course, brings The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect back to me.

It is certainly no secret that I absolutely love these books and have almost been flagging strangers down in the street recommending they read it. With all the millions and millions of books in this world and given that my house is bursting at the seams with books, what is it about these books? Why are they so special?

Personally, I related to the chaotic, seemingly disorganized character of Rosie in The Rosie Project. Rosie is spontaneous and chaotic like myself and I pictured her as a bit of a wild character with black lipstick, locks of wild red curly hair which she swirled into a bun and wearing vintage clothing. I have also know quite a few Don’s in my time, and taken them clothes shopping and given them dating advice.

However, as I was swept along by the story, I didn’t twig that I’d only ever seen Rosie through Don’s eyes. However, in The Rosie Effect, there are just a couple of lines of dialogue between the members of her study group, which revealed that Rosie is more like Don than I’d thought. That it’s more than likely that Rosie is on the Autism Spectrum as well.

Before I head off, I just wanted to emphasize that neither of these books judge or ridicule people on the Autism Spectrum. If anything, they lift the lid on the Autistic mind and help us better understand some its quirks and some of the ways it beats to a different drum. There’s perhaps an implicit hope that through this greater understanding, that we could become more inclusive as a community. Less judgemental. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a more diverse, eclectic and inclusive community where there is no prescription to belong? You simply come as you are and you’re in.

I will write more about what I learned about Graeme Simsion the man and the writer in my next post. As you can see it was a very productive evening and I even left buying another set of books to give away to some treasured friends.

Have you read the books? If so, I’d love to hear your reflections!

Xx Rowena

PS I was researching dyslexia tonight and came across this spelling of Asberger’s which made me laugh: “My son has mild arseburgers”. Someone commented: “arseburgers” – a minced rump steak?

[1] Bill Gates, http://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/The-Rosie-Project, July 12, 2014.