In “Dear Goldie Hawn, Dear Leonard Cohen”, Claudia Sternbach reveals herself through a false correspondence
Previously, there was only one plausible answer to the question “What do Goldie Hawn and Leonard Cohen have in common?” (They both starred in separate movies titled “Bird on a Wire.”)
Now there is a second link between the two. They are neighbors in a book title.
But “Dear Goldie Hawn, Dear Leonard Cohen” (Paper Angel Press) has little to do with the 1960s bikini dancer turned movie star, or the Canadian folk singer with a voice as deep as a tremor. Earth. Instead, this book talks a lot about its author, Aptos writer Claudia Sternbach.
From her longtime columnist position for the Santa Cruz Sentinel and her previously published books, “Now Breathe” and “Reading Lips,” Sternbach has primarily practiced the art of memoir, drawing on her rich personal experience to learn hard lessons. won. and often humorous lessons on the human being.
Her focus didn’t really change with “Dear Goldie”. She always tells gripping, often painfully honest, stories about the pains and joys in her life. Only then does Sternbach’s warm and knowledgeable essays on life, love, and loss rest on intelligent vanity.
The stories are told in epistolary form, in letters to famous people, never actually sent to their recipients. (She’s reading her new book at a Catamaran-sponsored “Zoom Forward” online event Friday.)
The letter to Goldie Hawn, for example, is a jumping off point for Sternbach to recount a bit of her adventures as a flight attendant in the 1970s. Hawn was the star of the movie “Butterflies Are Free”, the in-flight movie that Sternbach was never able to sit down and enjoy because she was working, until she was able to fly in an empty plane and was able to finally watch the movie, and see a relevant example of a young woman making her way in the world. The letter to Cohen becomes a melancholy rumination about the loss of Sternbach’s mother and her two sisters, one to cancer, the other to a “tear in the family fabric that seems impossible to mend” .
It would be a mistake to assume, however, that this is a collection of fan letters. Among his essays are letters to some of the most high-profile scoundrels of our time, including Bill Cosby, OJ Simpson, and Woody Allen (although to Allen, Sternbach extends the benefit of the doubt).
She also writes letters to fictional characters (Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex in the City”), to historical figures who have died over a century (Emily Dickinson) and to non-famous people in her own life, including her. mother, her two sisters and her husband, Michel.
The idea, Sternbach said, came when she saw a psychiatrist who suggested that she think about people who have had a positive impact on her life, just as a mental exercise. Her first thought was Cohen, which she listened to as she drove from her home to Aptos in East Bay to care for her ailing mother.
“It was sort of the perfect music for me at the time,” she said. “It was dark and he was still in my head. I probably should have listened to some happier music. But that’s where Leonard came in. I thanked him for keeping me company.
The collection’s first essay / letter, “Dear Johannes Vermeer,” might be the book’s most moving and personal piece. This is the first session with this psychiatrist:
“Tell me,” he asked. “Why did you come? “
Because I am broken. Because I no longer understand what love is. Because I don’t know where I belong. Or if I have ever belonged. Because I’m sitting at the bottom of the pool and don’t want to come up to the surface.
But I didn’t say these things.
“Because my husband is afraid to leave me alone,” I told him. “He’s exhausted from my sadness. And I’m afraid if I can’t get better, get better, he’ll go away. And I wouldn’t blame him. If I could leave myself, I would. And that also scares him. And me.”
After the psychiatrist’s suggestion, the letters came in waves “to fill an empty space in my head.” She has written Ray Charles, Jerry Garcia, Steve Jobs, Joan Didion, magician David Blaine, fashion icon Tim Gunn, her friend and fellow writer Jonathan Franzen – and her late sister, many letters to her.
As Santa Cruz comes to life, no one has you covered like Lookout
BOLO is our new interactive tool to keep you up to date. Here are your three key places to bookmark
“I used to do similar things in the writing class I taught at (the now closed Aptos bookstore) Bookworks,” she said. “It was really a lot of fun.”
In addition to writing the book, Sternbach also contributed to its cover. A late interest in painting manifested itself in an artistic obsession with furniture, mainly chairs, which she now paints with some frequency.
She painted a picture of a desk in a field that she said would make a nice cover image for “Dear Goldie”. His editor agreed. It was among about two dozen paintings she made of chairs. Why chairs? Why not?
“I love finding ways to be creative that don’t make money. “
Claudia Sternbach, in conversation with Wallace Baine, will read an excerpt from “Dear Goldie Hawn, Dear Leonard Cohen” Friday at 5 pm at an online-only “Zoom Forward” event. Registration is free.