About the book

Two women and their friendship are here in these letters. Both women now long gone. Time has a way of seeing to it. One has died, the other grown older. We are not the same people throughout our lives. It is a curious component of what we possessively call our lives. The moments in the letters were once real and it is my wish to bring her back to life through the decades in which I knew her, through the letters we wrote to each other and the times we passed through. The gossip, the history, the people, the exclamations and emotions and realizations we experienced are all in the letters and help to remind me that before Beth Bryant (or Betty as she was often called) disappeared, she had been so completely alive. 

It is a book of letters that tells the story of two aspiring young women, Beth and Yvette whose correspondence span a period of twenty-seven years--from San Francisco to a return to their roots in New York in the sixties, where they are involved in the Downtown art and political scene of the time, encountering and befriending people like; Bob Dylan, Dustin Hoffman, Shel Silverstein, Phil Ochs, Sam Shephard, Anna Halperin, Timothy Leary, Andre Gregory, Spaulding Gray, Eli Seigel, Andy Warhol, et al, and ends during the eighties when their lives spun off into widely divergent paths, one of them tragically.  This is a memoir of a brilliant woman whose life is often interrupted and altered.  While the story they tell is deeply personal, the letters also catalog the wider world events. As Beth becomes a successful travel writer, her letters are sent from Ireland during the Troubles, from Israel in the wake of the six-day war, and from Berlin just after the building of the Wall, while Yvette writes from her perch in New York, San Francisco, Canada and Rhode Island. You hear the authentic voices of two women growing up and then growing older, at the heart of the 20th Century--reflecting on their lives and wondering about their future against the fast-changing background of social and political turmoil, while men land on the surface of the moon


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Excerpts

November 19, 1962   New York, NY

Dear Betty,

    I felt so many things about the Cuban missile crisis. As it happened, I listened to Kennedy's speech over the loud speakers at the Fashion Institute of Technology while holding a thirty minute draped pose for a class of students. The juxtaposition between hearing about our nuclear obliteration and fashion felt almost ludicrous. I felt irrationally victimized as the students continued to draw, but more specifically by the world. However, New York seems to maintain its usual cool while being keenly aware of the danger involved. There was a mingling of tension as people watched the activity of the stock market! It was a fearful time of evaluating one's life and wondering very seriously if one would ever have the chance to grow old.  Yvette

 

June 28, 1963   New Brunswick, Canada

Beth:

    There is some good here, moments of beauty, occasional and spare, mostly around the hour of six. I can rest and relax and have a few of my own private thoughts. I've found a certain routine comforting to sustain life which centers around the one hour I have to myself. It happens mostly when I walk the few miles from the cabin, where I bunk with two other actors, and the theater. It is a lovely feeling of solitude. There is a graveyard on the road which I have not entered—mostly because of an ominous grey house next to it which belongs to the caretaker. A few days ago a grave was being prepared—thoughts of death.   Yvette

 

November 22, 1964 New York, NY

Dear Yvette,    

    A hard date to write!

I'm presently happy about my small successes. As I grow, I uncover more and more ambition, which rather surprises me. But I feel closer to myself, attuned to my own wave-length and strangely never waiver from my belief that this is only the start—that inside there is a novelist, just waiting for the right time. Therefore, I see my small ventures in the light of my "unlimited" potential. I only pray that I have the wisdom to know when I have reached the limit of my talent. That I am satisfied to function on whatever that level is. Nothing is sadder than watching a person who could do brilliantly on one level, continually fail because s/he over-reaches. I hope my level won't be too low.  Beth

 

August 26, 1965   New York, NY

Betty dear,

    You make the air sound so fresh, the water cold and clear, your four-mile bike rides wonderful and the blueberries along the road delicious. A paradise that's hard to even conjure up here on skanky Avenue B while I wait out this fever. But when I do I will fill the empty holes where the love for Chuck still lies. A little bewildered about what to do with it, except maybe just keep it as a gift. There is probably nothing more I can ask of it.  Yvette

 

November 14, 1966   Gerona, Spain

Dear Patient Yvette,

    I know now how to work with the novel! Not John's way, or Nabokov's way or Hemingway's goddamn stand-up-at-the mantelpiece way. But my way—which is to mull and think and re-think and work out what I want to say through draft after draft and double drafts if that's what it takes. Hell, I mull over life and think and rethink and pose the problem this way and that and why should it be different with my writing?  I've started to write about something I really care about. Some person I met or some thought I want to communicate and it starts to come from the gut—then it flows and I go back and chisel it a bit and it flows deeper. Layer upon layer is uncovered and I think if I can do this about a country I happen to have a crush on, what can I not do if I work with the people and the ways of the world that I love and I hate? I want to write  Beth

December 2, 1966      New York, NY

Dear old Beth,

    I went on my second acid trip. I try to let what is happening reveal itself, sometimes finding myself "playing" or "goofing" on objects or music. I think the next time, I need to drop acid in a quiet room with no distractions. I wonder what tests life has in store for me? I have tried to write while on acid, but simply cannot put pen to paper. I have turned a bit towards an imposed isolation, simplifying my environment and feel drawn to the Zen of silence. I hope you dig incense. Ah, don't worry!   Yvette

 

January 3, 1967   New York, NY

Beth,    

    This letter is really a New York City friendship/fellowship letter, which is to say we are all in strong support of your efforts. Brush your teeth, take your vitamins, eat three squares a day, take nice long walks, and sleep at least eight hours every night, preferably with someone you like.   Love, Yvette

 

January 4, 1967   Dublin, Ireland

Vettsky:

    Sent off five chapters to Arthur on December 31st via an Aer Lingus hostess, so at least Arthur will know I tried to acknowledge the deadline. I wrote him a very contrite letter, but I'm not really contrite at all. The experience of the writing has been terribly important for me. What I've tried to do is break down the barrier that words set up between the writer and the reader and I had to fight through my own shyness and defensiveness to do so. For the last three weeks in Spain, I was completely nonplussed by the part of me that did not want to be exposed, the person who often pulled back and threatened me if I forced it. My work was impossible—third rate stuff, flat and prosaic. When I got back to Ireland, I was completely discouraged and felt that it was terribly wrong that I should bang against the bottom of my talent so soon.  Beth

 

January 12, 1967   New York, NY

Dear ol' Beth,

    I have completed two of the sound tracks for my film, Room 1301, with a lot of help from my professional friends. That has been a major perk. Working at the agency has given me access to recording and mixing studios and editing equipment. It is a relief and I am making progress and very grateful. I go to California tomorrow for a nine-day shoot. My job must appear very glamorous. But then, you know all about that.  Love, Yvette

 

February 8, 1968   Usquepaugh, RI

Betty,

    End of an era it is. No use trying to hold on to time. When it's gone it is really gone. But there is always room, wherever we happen to be. Rhode Island, Boston, the Virgin Islands. Then there is always our fiftieth or sixtieth year to look forward to, when all roamers, nomads, and wandering spirits will come together again and root. Sounds like a plan to me.  Yvette

 

November 14, 1968   Berlin, Germany

Dear Vettsky:

    Yet there is relief to be out of it and its smothering intimacy of Ireland and into the refreshing freedom of Copenhagen. And yet, even here, while walking down the Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen, three young men stopped me and said in Irish brogues, "Sure and you can't do this city on five dollars a day!"  Beth

 

January something, 1969   Usquepaugh, RI    

    Good Grief, Betty! This is the last year of the decade. How did you feel about the moon landing? Did you see the pictures of earth as seen from space? Was it not magical? And did you see the actual surface of the moon? Is it not just completely awesome? I am struck by the notion of moving beyond our planet, hoping there are other worlds out there. Makes me sense how tiny we really are. Yvette

 

May 22, 1969  Eliat, Israel

Dear, sweet Yvette,

    I don't deserve a friend like you. You've written and written, always saying you'd like to hear from me, but never have you scolded. I understand there is yet another letter in Tel Aviv from you. I have needed it badly! As an overall judgment of this trip, I would say that it has been one of the heaviest things I have ever done. I've had downs that were so low and long I wondered if I would ever surface again, and ups that were so high I felt I could fly. The downs won this time around, but I seem to be climbing up the side of the soup bowl again.  Beth

 

August 26, 1969   London, England

Hi Sweetie,

    Well, we did it!  Yesterday at 12:30 pm. John and I got married at the Camden Town Hall in the presence of his best friends and their three-year-old daughter. We went to our wedding via the London Tube. The presiding official was so English he practically blushed when he charged us with our vows and suggested to John (after he gave me the ring) that "this would be an excellent time to kiss your lady." Then we all went off to an Italian Restaurant in Soho where we got riotously drunk on white wine and gorged ourselves on pasta. We came back home and John knocked off four pages before bed. It was a lovely wedding. Beth

 

Started on May 3, 1972   Usquepaugh, RI

Dear Betty,

    On June 1st Kalissa, my goat will kid and I am preoccupied with getting her ready for her proud moment. We have chickens now and a rooster. I enjoy John's morning crowing (for some reason we named him John) which makes me sure that country life is where I want to be. Jesse is now four months old. He is growing even dearer to me than before. Sometimes, I feel the pains of motherhood when I look at him. He is well and safe and what wouldn't I do to see that his world is not his tormentor. I am helpless to really do anything but try.  Yvette

 

June 9,  1973 San Francisco, CA

Dear Yvette,

    I am neither high nor euphoric, just perfectly happy to be where I am, doing what I am doing right now and nothing else is needed.  I feel healthy both physically and mentally. I am not terrified of a recurrence. That would steal my present contentment. I believe that life is totally arbitrary. You get bad luck and you get good. Not having bad luck right now is my good luck. I intend to enjoy the surcease in life's pain, however long it lasts. So if I get sick again, I am just as vulnerable as I was before—sick without a physician. It's not worth thinking about, so I won't. Bath