Where should I begin?
I don't know when it began. After I realized my third novel was crashing in flames, and would never rise again? Perhaps. But I think it started long before that.
How can you NOT know about Gershwin? At least something. At least some of those songs: The way you wear your hat. I got rhythm. And even (though we don't know where, or why) Swanee, how I love ya, how I love ya.
It's a delicate thing when you begin to feel a presence in your life. You're not sure how to receive it. And it's a lonely thing, because either you offer it up to mediums and spiritualists and those who are supposed to understand, or you tell non-spiritualists and are seen as basically crazy.
I would not recommend you offer it up at all, lonely as it is. You take a terrible risk. The presence I feel now-this-minute is catlike, sleek, lovely, indescribable, and even describing it here is somehow risky because I begin to feel foolish. Most of all, I wonder if it's the right thing for him.
But wouldn't he understand?
GG was rougher around the edges than most people knew, or saw. He cursed more. He fumed. Didn't get openly angry because he did not want to appear vulnerable, which he was, terribly. Tin Pan Alley followed him all his life, to the point that the critics ripped into him for writing Porgy and Bess without having the proper classical roots to even attempt such a thing. He was sensitive about technical know-how and hated it when they accused him of not having it. It was kind of like expecting Picasso to learn art techniques with a paint-by-numbers set. If he had had that standardized technical background, Porgy and Bess would have been forgotten a very long time ago.
I could write about GG the autodidact, the pianist, lover, etc., and it would all be right, or at least correct. But what about the lonely soul, seemingly even lonelier after his passing? What about all those frequent, baffling George appearances, which seem to make people's hair stand on end? For he keeps appearing, perhaps as revenge (no matter how playful) for his horrible, unforgiveably botched and bungled death.
His diseased brain, that beautiful brain that gave us the transporting miracle of his music, was gutted, cored like a grapefruit. The medical staff, embarrassed that they could not cure him and perhaps hoping he would die rather than turn into a vegetable, abandoned him to a room, where he died alone. George. Gershwin. Died. Alone.
Some spiritualist friends of mine have told me that the WORST thing that can happen to a person is to die in a room alone, especially in a state of spiritual confusion. GG had lapsed into a coma when the tumor in his brain finally exploded. He didn't know what was happening to him. He must have been looking down at his ravaged, ruined body and brain, knowing he had to leave, but not understanding, not understanding at all.
I remember that thing in A Christmas Carol about Jacob Marley. If a man's spirit doesn't engage with his fellow man during his lifetime, he's cursed to wander around endlessly after his death, seeking something he can never find.
Is it too late for George?
I am not a medium, but I do not sweep aside the (many, many) impressions I receive from people who have passed. It happens all the time, really. When I dared share my George adventure with a medium in Nanaimo, someone I've known for 25 years, he at first seemed interested - "fascinating!", he exclaimed again and again - and then, suddenly, with no warning or explanation at all, he dumped all my revelations as phony, inauthentic, even concocted by me to try to play the spiritualist and overstep the bounds, because after all, I've had no Medium Training and thus know nothing.
So Paul B. (I won't give his full name, not to protect him but me) ripped into my vision. I cannot tell you how devastated I was. It didn't merely pull the rug out from under. It was more like falling through the ice. This man's arrogance is nothing new. Years ago I sent him some samples of the novel I was writing, because he seemed very interested, and I had already read an entire manuscript of his (which was extremely dull and even offensive in places). I got this answer from him: well, Margaret, I think you need to be extremely careful not to make a fool of yourself sending this out to publishers, because they're going to see it as some kind of zany soap opera (the thing was a gut-wrenching take on the abuse I suffered as a child). Devastated, I wrote back to say: listen, Paul, these were just samples, not the whole novel. Please, read the whole thing before saying stuff like that!
And this was a so-called "friend". At that point, I wished I had not trusted ANYONE with my work.
Years went by, I didn't count how many, and then I got one of his calligraphy-written letters ("I don't know how I know how to do this", he told me), saying he wanted to apologize to me for saying those nasty dismissive things, but he couldn't help it because the subject matter of my novel had triggered all his "unresolved issues". It was a case of "look what you made me do", I see now, but of course I couldn't see it then. I just felt amazed that anyone had apologized to me for being abusive: it had never happened before, not in my lifetime. I tried to put the "zany soap opera" remark behind me, even though he admitted he had not even read the excerpts from the novel before condemning it. The outline was enough for him to form an opinion.
Fuckface, bastard, I hope he dies. . . but he won't. He has set up a backwater fiefdom in Nanaimo, and is now a little prince strutting around with little old ladies hanging on to his every word. When he suddenly cut my George impressions out from under me, it was "zany soap opera" all over again, only worse, because he was accusing me of being an amateur and a fraud, someone who should keep her fingers out of this stuff before the Devil comes marching into her living room.
But something happens with George, and I have found out about it. He appears to people, not always where he knows he will be understood. I don't see him, but I feel him and I always know who it is. He walked in, just like Love walked in, and walked around the left side of my office chair and stood in front of me.
I still feel him, slipping around the room, silently, occasionally tapping me on my (always) left shoulder to correct something I'm thinking, or clarify. "Display" was one word I received (it's a felt knowledge, so I sort of have to translate it into actual words). I was thinking about his appearance, how elegantly he dressed, how well-turned-out he was, and I wondered if it was at least partly a - hmmm - a -
Now I know. Yes, it makes sense because he was already wildly famous by the time he was in his mid-twenties. It's not such a long way from being a song-plugger on Tin Pan Alley to world fame. Not if you're George Gershwin. A hop, skip and a jump is enough.
Why is he here? You can make up your own mind whether he is or not, as I often have to do. I never went to Medium School, and I firmly believe each person who practices spiritualism in any form IS their method. You don't learn it out of a book. Paul B. is so overeducated I am surprised he doesn't waddle when he walks. He has two Master's degrees and a PhD. To my mind, no one is duller and less-equipped to handle reality than an academic. Like Napoleon, he has grabbed the crown of mediumship and plunked it down on his own swelled head.
George is smiling, though only a little, and I feel warmth on my left side. It's like a cat rubbing on me, almost imperceptibly. Sleek and warm and lovely, but there is a melancholy, a heartbreak really, or he wouldn't have been able to write those songs. "All my friends are leaving me," he said when he was very near to his deathbed. It's true. Scared of his illness and the bizarre behaviour that went along with an undiagnosed/untreated, grapefruit-sized tumour in his head, they did abandon him, even his soul-mate Kay Swift who was not allowed anywhere near him. Only a few remained, including Oscar Levant, who was so phobic about death that he could not stand to hear the word "insurance".
But he stayed, played him songs out of Porgy and Bess on the piano (which George, his co-ordination destroyed, could no longer play), and sang them in his bellowing baritone. It's often said that in a crisis, you find out who your real friends are.
But even Oscar's dogged loyalty couldn't save George. When you pass out of this world in confusion, with not even a kindly nurse or a cleaning lady in the room with you, no human energy at all, you don't know you're dead, don't know where the hell you are and what's going on. This has to be resolved somehow, and the upshot of it is that this world and the next become separated by a gauzy veil, the thinnest and most permeable of membranes. You can easily slip back and forth between worlds.
It's called being a ghost, folks. Why don't I finally say it? George Gershwin, as amiable and benevolent as he is, is a ghost.
So who am I to be receiving these impressions, I who have never gone to Medium School? Why is it someone so famous? Do you think I know? Is it like reincarnation, where everyone thinks they used to be George Washington or Cleopatra, not just some schlub digging potatoes in the fields?
Is it the fact I open to him, I welcome him, I pay attention to him, I - in fact - love him?
Mediums and spiritualists go on and on about Love being the Ultimate Reality and all that. But I am here to tell you something. There are things more important than love, and I will tell you what they are. I will list them for you right now.
Forgiveness. Yes, even that, the thing I often scorn and rage about. Forgiveness is more important than Love, because without it, Love is soon destroyed. It is more fragile than we realize.
So if all these other things are more important than Love, then loving George isn't such a big deal, is it? Of course it's a big deal, it's huge. It graces my life. I feel his presence and it wraps around my left side. He faces me and wants me to understand, and in that plea I almost see him.
I wouldn't be afraid to see him, I would know who he was and why he was doing this. I'm not meant to go trumpet all this to the world, and in fact I only write it here because I know only a handful of people ever read this blog (with the exception of the entry I See Dead People, which has had more than 110,000 views to date because, I think, it's on Pinterest). It's safe. I can do this. I need to, because goddamn, sometimes it's lonely being who I am and carrying all this baggage, and losing so much along the way.
And I think, somehow, George would understand.