Are you looking to add a book to your TBR that will transport you to a cozy, New England town? Do you dream of sandy spits, salty breeze, and the charm of a wealthy, multi-generational coastal haven? Is your favorite song “the last great American dynasty” from Taylor Swift’s folklore? Or maybe you wish you could be on the guest list to one of Swift’s notorious, star-studded 4th of July parties?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, this is the ultimate book list for you!
The books listed below are all set in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Watch Hill, Rhode Island is a historic New England coastal village that is steeped in tradition, affluence, and American values. Just a two hour drive from Boston or three hours from New York City, Watch Hill is located at the most southwestern tip of Rhode Island and is characterized by gorgeous sunsets, rocky seashores, and old money.
The bluff after which the town is named was used as a lookout point during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Watch Hill became an idyllic summer resort for a number of families— many traveling via train from places like St. Louis and Detroit.
Today, upon Watch Hill’s highest peak, sits the legendary Holiday House— a multi-million dollar mansion that once belonged to Rebekah Harkness (who married into the Standard Oil fortune) and now belongs to singer/songwriter Taylor Swift.
Watch Hill’s geography, culture, and notable residents make it the perfect setting for any type of novel. Many authors, including myself, have been inspired by the history, tradition, and all-American nature of this timeless New England coastal village.
Books Set in Watch Hill
Lucky by Kristina Parro
If you are a Taylor Swift fan (especially any folklore lovers), interested in the Golden Ratio, love mythology and philosophy, or enjoy unique, genre-bending fiction, Lucky is a book you need to check out!
Lucky is a story unlike any other… a fairytale of modern times. Inspired by 2020 Album of the Year, folklore, Lucky weaves together the stories of two powerful women: Rebekah Harkness— notorious, scandalous heiress of the Standard Oil Fortune— and Rhea (Rae) Harmonía— America’s favorite pop-star. Both women become rich beyond their wildest dreams… but soon come to a harrowing realization. It may be that only the pursuit of happiness is fun. Once the dream comes true, life seems to become a nightmare.
Bonus: This book is my debut novel! There is a ton of content on this blog that talks more about Lucky.
Finding Mrs. Ford by Deborah Goodrich Royce
If you are looking for a lyrical, thought provoking thriller,Finding Mrs. Ford by Deborah Goodrich Royce is the book for you. Susan Ford lives an idyllic life, splitting her time between New York City and Watch Hill, Rhode Island. She seems like the type of woman who keeps her life— and everything that is part of it— under control. Until one morning, in the summer of 2014, when the FBI pays her a visit… and Susan is forced to revisit the summer of 1979. A summer where everything changed.
Bonus: Finding Mrs. Ford was written by Deborah Goodrich Royce who lives in Watch Hill. There, she and her husband restored the iconic Ocean House hotel. Deborah also played Silver Kane on the hit ABC soap opera, All My Children. You can check out a conversation I had with Deborah on Instagram LIVE!
Eden by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg
If you are looking for a poignant family saga full of generational wisdom, Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg’s Edenneeds to rocket to the top of your TBR. Eden is set in Long Harbor— a fictional Watch Hill, RI— a town packed with wealth and tradition. But as with everything, for families summering in this coastal village, there is always another side to the coin. In Eden, secrets are revealed, stories are shared, and lives change with the times. Join Becca Meister Fitzpatrick, a wife, mother, grandmother, and pillar of the community, for what might be her last summer in Long Harbor… as she struggles with the discovery that her recently deceased husband squandered their nest egg.
From the book’s description on Amazon: “When Flossy Merrill summons her children to the beloved family beach house to celebrate their father’s eightieth birthday, both cherished memories and long-kept secrets come to light in this charming and lyrical novel from the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer.
Flossy Merrill has managed to—somewhat begrudgingly—gather her three ungrateful grown children from their dysfunctional lives for a summer reunion at the family’s Rhode Island beach house. With her family finally congregated under one seaside roof, Flossy is determined to steer her family back on course even as she prepares to reveal the fate of the summer house that everyone has thus far taken for granted: she’s selling it. The Merrill children are both shocked and outraged and each returns to memories of their childhoods at their once beloved summer house—the house where they have not only grown up, but from which they have grown away. Featuring McKinnon’s “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) voice, this warm-hearted novel is perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Alice Monroe.”
Blue Blood by Craig Unger
If you love narrative non-fiction (and can manage to get your hands on a copy of this rare book), Blue Blood by Craig Unger is for you. Blue Blood is actually a primary source I used for my debut novel, Lucky. This book chronicles the life of Rebekah Harkness, heiress to the Standard Oil fortune and star of Taylor Swift’s song “ the last great American dynasty,” and includes her scandalous history with Joffrey’s ballet.
Other Art inspired by Watch Hill
Florida based artist Mary LaGarde has also used Watch Hill as inspiration for her art. Her painting, A Marvelous Time, is inspired by Taylor Swift’s folklore and the last great American dynasty. You can find her painting (and prints!) here: A Marvelous Time.
Last week I was interviewed by the amazing Shannon Lane for her new bookish YouTube channel. Shannon is another independent author of contemporary fiction. Check out Shannon’s book, Soul on Fire! Make sure you like the video above and subscribe to Shannon’s channel!
Lucky is the story of the American Dream, an epic juxtaposition of glitter and tragedy: the tangled stories of two powerful women who are connected through the transcendental nature of time and space. In Lucky, the reader tumbles down the rabbit hole with America’s favorite pop-star, Rhea Harmonía as she dives deep on a journey through American history, Western thinking, modern philosophy, mythology, math, music, and time.
I dove into Taylor Swift’s lyrics to help me make sense of some of the tragedy I found myself surrounded by (as an essential healthcare worker during the pandemic).
Kristina Parro in an interview with Shannon Lane
In the first verse of the song, the last great American dynasty, Taylor introduces the main character with the lyrics: ‘Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny. Her salt box house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis. Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name and money. And the town said, “how did a middle class divorcé do it?”’
Throughout the song, we learn that Rebekah married Bill and they bought the largest, most spectacular house on the Eastern seaboard: Holiday House. Swift sings, ‘Their parties were tasteful if a little gauche,’ which was a little tongue-in-cheek. Everyone wanted an invite to Holiday House. Rebekah Harkness felt like she was the queen of the world.
Then, Bill died, and the tides turned. Rebekah quickly became the ‘maddest woman the town had ever seen.’ Swift sings that ‘she had a marvelous time ruining everything.’ Rebekah’s story ultimately ends in an epic tragedy.
By the end of the song, Swift reveals that after Rebekah died, she bought Holiday House. Almost immediately, Rebekah’s story began to manifest in Taylor’s life. I read more about Rebekah’s story and learned that there are many interesting parallels between the lives of Taylor Swift and Rebekah Harkness. Their stories are a perfect example of an adage echoed throughout Lucky, ‘stories repeat, almost cyclically, throughout history.’
I uncovered this magical story that helped me, as the author, navigate and cycle through a really dark time in my life and bring me to the other side.
Kristina Parro in an interview with Shannon Lane
Learn more about Lucky, my publishing process, the release of my book (including my release party!), the importance of writing, why I chose the name Lucky, and so much more in Shannon’s interview!
Let me know in the comments: did you learn anything new about me from Shannon’s interview?
P.S. I just wanted to take a moment to say, ‘thank you,’ to everyone— my family and friends of old and new— who has purchased my book, read it, provided me with cool opportunities, written reviews, and overall supported me in person or on social media during this process! It has been so much fun to take on this new life path, and I know it wouldn’t be possible without you. I appreciate you all more than you know.
The Fun Stuff!
Bonus content: photos from my release party! A HUGE ‘thank you’ to my parents (for having the party), my brother for coming out, my boyfriend Matt for everything, and everyone who came to the party! It was the best birthday ever!
Many have heard his name. Most have seen his work: dreamscapes, melting clocks, eroticism, and otherwise shocking scenes. Maybe you’ve even seen a photograph of Salvador Dalí, most recognizable by his stiff, upwards-turned, handlebar mustache. But, how much do you really know about the man himself?’
Salvador Dalí is one of the most celebrated artists of all time; an eccentric, artistic genius, and leader, specifically in the field of surrealism.
A refresher: surrealism is an art movement with undertones lying in geometry and modern physics that began in France in the 1920s. It is characterized by dreamscapes and images that make the viewer question reality by delving into the depths of the subconscious.
Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.
Surrealism, and Dalí himself, were extensively studied by the renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud. After meeting Dalí, Freud wrote, “For until now, I have been inclined to regard the surrealists, who apparently have adopted me as their patron saint, as complete fools. That young Spaniard, Dalí, with his candid fantastical eyes and undeniable technical mastery, has changed my estimate.”
More than Einstein or Watson and Crick, more than Hitler or Lenin, Roosevelt or Kennedy, more than Picasso Eliot or Stravinsky, more than the Beatles or Bob Dylan, Freud’s influence on modern culture has been profound and long-lasting.
psychologist and Freud critic, John Kihlstrom
Dalí was born in the 1904, on the rocky Mediterranean coast, in Figueroa, Spain. His older brother, also named Salvador, died almost nine months to the day before Dalí was born. Early on, his parents had him convinced that he was the reincarnated version of his brother— who, according to legend, died, almost 9 months to the die before Dalí himself was born.
As a small boy, he fell in love with the ocean. Dalí was particularly fascinated by the rocks on the shore of his sacred childhood summertime haven, in the seaside village of Cadaques. The sun shone bright in the sky and casted shadows on them. Dalí noticed how life-like the rocks looked— almost like human faces. At just five or six-years old, Dalí sat on the beach for hours and sketched the faces on the rocks.
As the shadows shifted with the passing of the sun, the faces on the rocks changed form. The tiny Dalí marveled at their metamorphosis. He recorded the changes he saw on his father’s sketch pad, in striking detail. That was Dalí’s first foray into art.
One of Dalí’s first known painted works is called Landscape, which he finished in 1914. In 1916, Dalí attended drawing school in his hometown and studied with Ramon Pichot, a local impressionist painter who later became Dalí’s mentor.
Another of Dalí’s mentors/ inspirations was Pablo Picasso, who he met in 1926. Their meeting was hugely influential to Dalí, as evidenced by themes in his work. Picasso gave Dalí “a model to emulate.” Their relationships evolved into a weird, one-sided, obsessive correspondence, with Dalí sending the artist hundred of letters and postcards.
Around this time Dalí enjoyed freedom of self-expression while experimenting with various avant-grade painting styles, including cubism, futurism, and purism. In 1926, following disciplinary actions at his art school, he was dismissed. By 1928, Dalí was notorious… and he began experiencing international acclaim.
Gala— Dalí’s muse
Dalí married Gala—his muse— in 1929. She often modeled for him, and her likeness is seen multiple times in his work.
She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife.
The year he met Gala also marks Dalí’s artistic transition into surrealism. In the years that followed, Dalí explored a self-coined “paranoid-critical” method of painting, described by Dalí himself as “irrational knowledge” based on a “delirium of interpretation.”
I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.
In 1931, Dalí painted one of his most well-known pieces— which currently resides in Museum of Modern Art in NYC— called The Persistence of Memory. The painting depicts an irrational, hyper-real dream world: melting clocks, swarming ants, entropy, death, decay, and maybe even Dalí himself.
During this time, a period marred by the Spanish Civil War, Dalí became more and more eccentric. He began to have strained relationships with other artists, including the leader of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton.
Andre Breton became openly critical of Dalí’s growing celebrity. He coined Dalí’s anagrammatic nickname, Avida Dollars. By 1939, Dalí had broken from the Surrealists. When France fell to the Nazis in June of 1940, Dalí and Gala moved to America.
Dalí in America
In 1941, Dalí finished writing his autobiography: The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. This book contained an inter tangled web of fact and fictionalized events from Dalí’s life. The next year, it was published. The bizzare book brought Dalí even more acclaim.
In America, he became associated with the greats: Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Buckminster Fuller, and Standard Oil Heiress Rebekah Harkness, to name a few.
Dalí makes an appearance in my book, Lucky: A Novel (inspired by Taylor Swift’s folklore and the incredible true story of Standard Oil Heiress Rebekah Harkness) because of his friendship with Harkness.
During this time, he expanded his art practice to visual-performance art, jewelry, clothing, furniture, sets for plays and ballets, and even display windows for department stores.
Nuclear Mysticism is an artistic style developed by Dalí later in his life after achieving a divine epiphany. He saw a connection between religious/spiritual mysticism and science (particularly physics). Dalí believed that science was proof of God’s existence and God’s existence was proof of the powers of science.
Dalí and the Golden Ratio
Salvador Dalí was taken by mathematics; how number seems to reveal a hidden order in the world.
The Golden Ratio is an irrational number that possesses a variety of interesting properties. It was studied by ancient mathematicians due to its frequent appearance in natural and man made phenomenon. The Golden Ratio has been suggested to reflect nature’s balance between symmetry and asymmetry (chaos and order). It is thought to be the most aesthetic number, or the proportion of perfect beauty.
Dalí talked about the Golden Ratio in the above interview with Dick Cavett. There are countless examples of Dalí using the Golden Ratio and concepts related to the Golden Ratio in his art and life.
Dalí the Performance Artist
Dalí was a born performer; a man who needed (and thrived off) an audience. Dalí was captivating; just as talented at self-promotion and money-making as he was at painting. His southwest-European accent was thick, but he had a way with words that threw you off just from pure amazement of its exquisiteness. He spoke in a scrambled language, but it was the tongue of genius.
Dalí wore a diving suit to a lecture at London International Surrealist Exhibition and appeared in the same on the cover of Time Magazine. He walked his pet anteater on a leash down the streets of New York City. He brought a Rolls Royce overflowing with cauliflower to an interview and rambled on about spirals and the golden ratio.
Salvador Dalí changed the way the art world worked, through paint, film, design, his intellect, and his public persona.
Each morning, I wake up experiencing an exquisite joy— the joy of being Salvador Dalí.
What do you think Dalí’s legacy is? Let me know in the comments!
If you enjoy learning about Salvador Dalí, check out my conversation about him with Kyle Wood on the Who ARTed Podcast.
If you missed Part 1, where KP and I talk folklore/evermore, The Barbie Doll poem by Marge Piercy, art being a reflection of the society around us, and the idea of “perspective is reality.” Check it out here.
Kristina: I think our entire world needs transformation right now, and that may be why Taylor’s music is resonating with people so deeply.
KP: I have been trying to do a epiphany analysis for like four days in a row, but it’s difficult. The imagery and themes are just so relatable, especially now as the Delta variant of COVID is sweeping through the country. I have a young son, but I’m terrified of him getting sick. All of the war imagery, people dying on beaches, the connection between gloved hands… all of that imagery draws up so much emotion. I think that is why her music transforms us, because we get so emotional when we listen to it.
Kristina: I think when we become so emotional, it awakens some of our subconscious in a way that allows us to make a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. For me, much of Taylor’s music has a way about it that invokes that heavy emotion.
KP: It can be intense and heavy, but I think we do need a reminder sometimes. epiphany is such an important song. You worked in healthcare so you know, it is like a war zone out there.
Kristina: Agreed. I think epiphany will always be a hard song for me to listen to and talk about.
Changing gears, let’s talk about the idea of the “invisible string” we see throughout folklore and evermore. There are many references of an “invisible string” in literature, such as in Jane Eyre, with the idea of a “cord of communion” connecting hearts. There is also a Chinese parable about the Red Thread of Fate, a string that connects people and larger groups of people throughout time. It has spiraling branches… kind of like the willow tree.
KP: It’s interesting. I view the invisible string as something that’s just there. You didn’t make the choice to be connected with someone via an invisible string, you just are. It’s like fate or destiny. It’s like something is pulling you to something else. In willow, she follows the golden string out. But in contrast, Taylor loves to talk about choices. She often brings up the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken. It’s funny that she talks so much about choices but also has the idea of an invisible string throughout the albums.
Kristina: I think there are some deep philosophical themes encoded here. In our own lives, we have to somehow juxtapose the idea of free will with fate. It’s like the Butterfly Effect in the way that your choices do play a role in the outcome of your life. But, there is a bigger picture too and there are bigger forces that work on you that help lead you towards your truest path. I don’t know, it’s a hard thing to understand.
KP: It is, but it’s such a beautiful thing to think about. Sometimes it feels like we’re faced with impossible choices. What do I do? Do I choose this path, or this one? But, it’s sort of comforting to think that there’s a bigger picture that we can’t see at the moment. “Everything happens for a reason,” is a really comforting idea.
Kristina: It really is. Otherwise, things can really just seem like a tragedy. I think that’s another theme in folklore/evermore, but more specifically folklore. It’s funny, because folklore was written at the same time I was also feeling the tragedy of it all… it was the thick of the pandemic/lockdowns, so many of us probably were. It was a time where I looked at the world around me and felt hopeless. I felt like… if life is all just a tragedy, what’s the point? I see a similar kind of theme in folklore…
My book, Lucky, is the story of Rebekah Harkness. I learned through my research just how tragic Rebekah’s story is. Maybe that is why Taylor is so drawn to Rebekah’s story.
I think tragedy very often befalls the hero-type. It’s kind of like, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Taylor, being in her position in life… like, in The Lucky One, she talks about wanting to go to a garden far away from it all. But, during the pandemic, Taylor may have realized that isolation is not the answer, because we are all connected. The things happening in the world around us still have an impact on us wether we are apart of them or not. It’s especially interesting from her perspective, because she could have easily chosen to say “I’m done” with all of the tragedy/trauma she went through during her career.
KP: It’s so true. She could have so easily quit, and we wouldn’t have blamed her! “We understand girl, you do what’s best for you!” Going back to mirrorball, she talks about how her tragedy was put on display for everyone to see. It was almost for our entertainment. That had to have trauma. Then going to evermore, and long story short, were she talks about how traumatic the journey was… but then says, “long story short, I survived.”
Kristina: Yes! That’s so powerful. long story shortis one of the most iconic songs. It’s so fun but there are so many literary references and so much deep meaning. One of my favorite lines from that song is when she says “I always felt I must look better in the rear view.”
KP: That’s a powerful line. You feel for her! I always try to separate the art from the artist, but that was one of the songs where I couldn’t separate it at first. At the beginning of the song I was so sad for her, but by the end, I was so proud of her. I felt like I have been on a journey with her for 15 years, and she DID survive.
I think that’s why I think about the Barbie Doll poem. The narrator is subject to much ridicule and judgement just because she was a woman. We all know, Taylor Swift has been there and bought the t-shirt! One thing I love about folklore/evermore was that she threw out the need to have radio hits. Her word choice, diction, content… those songs won’t get played! She didn’t care, because she wanted to have an album about where she’s at right now.
Kristina: That reminds me of one of her bonus tracks on evermore, right where you left me. Let’s talk about the bonus tracks… I think how Taylor released the album and bonus tracks is significant.
First, she released folklore and the story began. Then, the lakes came out, delayed and added more to the story. Then evermore came out, and it added more. Finally, the bonus tracks came out and added even more to the story.
KP: You know, I had never really sat down and mapped it out like that. I haven’t thought about it, but I’m wondering if this is a new frontier in releasing music and how music will be released. I’ve never seen someone do something like that. You would know more about this from a story teller’s perspective, but it really does seem significant.
Kristina: I noticed it first with the lakes. So, folklore ends with hoax. With that song, she’s saying “I’m done.” I mean, she says, “stood on the cliff side screaming, give me a reason.” What is the reason behind all of this tragedy?! She seems done. Then the lakes came out, and it was sad but almost hopeful…
KP: Yeah, almost… that’s a really good point because you think that’s it. With hoax, it’s almost like you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, waiting to be pushed off, waiting to fall to your death, ready for this to be over. But, with the lakes, it’s different. It doesn’t need to be over. It’s like, “actually, let’s channel your inner Romantic poet instead.”
I need to look at the track list order, because I haven’t done that. With all of her other albums, I have the actual CD. With these though, because I was doing live reactions for YouTube, I can’t trust myself not to listen to the whole album if I had it.
Kristina: I cannot believe you have enough self control to wait to listen to the album in order to do those live reactions.
KP: It’s very difficult. I have to not think about it. With evermore, I really hadn’t thought too much about it because I was still so focused on folklore. I was listening to some songs on folklore over and over and over again. Once I started listening to evermore songs though, it became harder to hold back. I can’t wait to get the album and listen to it all the way through.
Kristina: For sure, you should! Going back to the bonus tracks, the bonus tracks on evermore were also a very interesting pick. right where you left me talks about someone being frozen in time; but then in it’s time to go, she is saying “let go of what isn’t right for you, take the risk.”
Sometimes it’s riskier to do nothing if you are in a bad situation, a situation that isn’t right for you.it’s time to go was one of my favorites on evermore, and very soon after hearing that song, I quit my job at the nursing home. It was really hard for me to quit. It felt like I was one of the only people that cared about my patients so I felt really emotionally attached. I almost needed someone to tell me it is okay to choose yourself sometimes, because you never know what is going to happen to you. You need to look out for you because everyone else is looking out for themselves.
KP: Exactly, doing the thing that is right for you can be difficult. I felt a similar way before leaving the classroom. I always say, “leaving the classroom wasn’t without tears.” It was very difficult. It just wasn’t working anymore with COVID and my son getting older. At some point, you realize you are sacrificing a part of your self, and then you think “at what cost?”
I think Taylor does a really good job with both album, what is the cost of your circumstance and choices? Are you willing to pay that cost? I guess we’ll have to answer those questions at some point.
Kristina: That makes me think about the idea of karma, too. I think that’s another theme we see throughout the two albums. You will pay for everything that happens in life in some form or another. Maybe that is why Taylor seems to be so enthralled with the idea of tragedy… because she is so great. The opposite side of the coin of epic greatness is often times epic tragedy! That’s a scary thing to think about, especially when you’re sitting in the position Taylor is sitting in.
Click here to read Part 3, where KP and I talk season imagery, poetry, Blue Blood/Rebekah Harkness references in the album, and legacy!
Rebekah Harkness was one of the world’s richest women, the Standard Oil heiress, and founding patron of the Harkness Ballet. But beneath the elegant surface lurked a driven woman tormented by personal demons. This biography tells the story of how one of the richest families descended into a world of drugs, madness, suicide, and violence.
Mario Livio gives an accessible and objective history of the occurrences and uses of the Golden Ratio. He makes a strong argument for Phi as “the world’s most astonishing number” while at the same time mitigating some of the more radical claims about the number and its influence through history.
Aristotle conceives of ethical theory as a field distinct from the theoretical sciences. Its methodology must match its subject matter—good action—and must respect the fact that in this field many generalizations hold only for the most part. We study ethics in order to improve our lives, and therefore its principle concern is the nature of human well-being. Aristotle follows Socrates and Plato in taking the virtues to be central to a well-lived life. Like Plato, he regards the ethical virtues (justice, courage, temperance and so on) as complex rational, emotional and social skills. But he rejects Plato’s idea that to be completely virtuous one must acquire, through training in the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy, an understanding of what goodness is. What we need, in order to live well, is a proper appreciation of the way in which such goods as friendship, pleasure, virtue, honor, and wealth fit together as a whole. In order to apply that general understanding to particular cases, we must acquire, through proper upbringing and habits, the ability to see, on each occasion, which course of action is best supported by reasons. Therefore practical wisdom, as he conceives it, cannot be acquired solely by learning general rules. We must also acquire, through practice, those deliberative, emotional, and social skills that enable us to put our general understanding of well-being into practice in ways that are suitable to each occasion.
This article argues that Garrett Hardin’s primary object of critique in his influential “The Tragedy of the Commons” is not the commons or shared property at all—as is almost universally assumed by Hardin’s critics—but is rather Adam Smith’s theory of markets and its viability for protecting scarce resources. On the basis of this revised understanding, this article then offers a different interpretation of Hardin’s thesis by assigning hermeneutic priority to the concept of “tragedy” (Aristotle, Nietzsche) rather than the concept of the “commons.” Read through the concept of tragedy, it argues that Hardin’s thesis effectively asserts a rigid incompatibility between market economics and environmental protection, and to this extent “The Tragedy of the Commons” is more aptly read as a political critique that questions the viability of unlimited growth as the axiomatic premise of planetary economics.
John Robinson III’s contribution to the “Race & Capitalism” series provides a historical perspective on what he calls American capitalism’s “selective democratization,” especially with regards to race. The myth of a self-regulating market, argues Robinson, obscures the political underpinnings of economic inclusion, which has consistently favored the “self-reliance” of white workers while excluding blacks. He draws on W. E. B. Du Bois’s analysis of the post–Civil War Freedmen’s Bureau and attempts to democratize housing assets in the 1970s through the Community Reinvestment Act as examples of policy efforts to increase inclusion that have been thwarted by racial politics.
In this dynamic and utterly novel presentation, David Loy explores the fascinating proposition that the stories we tell–about what is and is not possible, about ourselves, about right and wrong, life and death, about the world and everything in it–become the very building blocks of our experience and of reality itself. Loy uses an intriguing mixture of quotations from familiar and less-familiar sources and brief stand-alone micro-essays, engaging the reader in challenging and illuminating dialogue. As we come to see that the world is made–in a word–of stories, we come to a richer understanding of that most elusive of Buddhist ideas: shunyata, the “generative emptiness” that is the all-pervading quality inherent to all mental and physical forms in our ever-changing world. Reminiscent of Zen koans and works of sophisticated poetry, this book will reward both a casual read and deep reflection. A shorter, free version of this can be found here.
The Awakening is a novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899. Set in New Orleans and on the Louisiana Gulf coast at the end of the 19th century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle between her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women’s issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism, generating a mixed reaction from contemporary readers and critics. The novel’s blend of realistic narrative, incisive social commentary, and psychological complexity makes The Awakening a precursor of American modernist literature; it prefigures the works of American novelists such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway and echoes the works of contemporaries such as Edith Wharton and Henry James. It can also be considered among the first Southern works in a tradition that would culminate with the modern works of Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, published 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature for its illustration of the attitudes towards mental and physical health of women in the 19th century.
I spoke with artist Mary LaGarde yesterday on Instagram Live about her painting A Marvelous Time, inspired by Taylor Swift’s song, The Last Great American Dynasty. My book, Lucky, is inspired by the same. I knew we’d have lots to chat about!
Kristina: The Last Great American Dynasty is such a fabulous song— so vivid and inspirational. Why don’t we start by you telling us a little more about your painting!
Mary: It all started in February of this year— on Valentine’s Day. My husband is a leukemia survivor and has a compromised immune system, so we were unable to go out for the holiday due to the pandemic. Instead, I decided we would have cocktails in the Tiki Hut in the backyard! I concocted a drink called “Cupid’s Arrow” and brought my little boom box out with us to the back. We put on a playlist— Hipster Radio, to be specific; it’s cool, smooth, and on Pandora— when all of a sudden Taylor’s song came on, “The Last Great American Dynasty.”
Now, I hadn’t heard of this song. I didn’t know Taylor Swift wrote this song, or anything about it. All I thought was, “Oh my gosh! The lyrics of this song are incredible. I wonder if Taylor Swift wrote this song. It kind of sounds like her!”
Sure enough, I went onto Pandora and found that she did write it. We listened to the song again and I became so excited. “I have got to paint this story,” I thought. There is so much to it, and Taylor has painted such a beautiful picture with her song. I started to get excited about dovetailing off this whole world— the light and the dark of Rebekah’s life— and wanted to showcase the characters of her epic story.
I think Taylor has really outdone herself with folklore and evermore. She seems to be really coming into herself with both of these albums. I will forever be a Swiftie now!
Kristina: Me too! I agree, I think that folklore and evermore have taken Taylor Swift to an entire new level with the deep themes and story telling (and not just stories of herself, anymore). The story of Rebekah Harkness was a great one for her to start with, in my opinion, because of all of the crazy parallels between the life of Taylor Swift and Rebekah Harkness. Also, Rebekah Harkness is an endlessly fascinating person, as you have also found out!
Mary: Not too long ago, I got to go up to Holiday House in Watch Hill. I sat there and tried to get the feel of the area— where the wind was blowing, where the sea was crashing in, the shoreline and the rocks, the view. I played her song while sitting there watching the waves. It was magical. I feel so lucky I was able to do that. I wanted to make sure I carried across that feeling, the energy in Holiday House.
Side note, just so everyone knows how we know so much about Rebekah… Rebekah Harkness (aka Betty West) was notorious when she was alive and was frequently splashed upon the front page of the newspaper. After she passed away, Craig Unger wrote a biography about Rebekah entitled “Blue Blood.” It is the chronicle of Rebekah’s entire life, as well as the West family and the Harkness family. It’s jam-packed with tons of juicy information. But, there was only one edition ever published of “Blue Blood.” Now, it’s a rare book. It is almost impossible to find. Mary was trying to find a copy and wasn’t able to…
Mary: No, I wasn’t, but your book is a great substitute! Your book, Lucky, is awesome.
Kristina: Thank you so much! I got access to Blue Blood at a circulation-only library downtown Chicago, and I was reading it and reading different articles about Rebekah… I was like, I have access to information that not everyone is able to access. So, that was part of what drew me originally to this story and what inspired me to want to memorialize Rebekah’s story through Lucky, because it is a powerful story. It is a story that many people are interested in because there are a lot of fans of Taylor Swift and many people intrigued by the story of Rebekah Harkness.
Kristina: I would love to talk about all of the different people in your painting. You have immortalized some of the fascinating characters that have shown up throughout Rebekah’s life.
Mary: First up, is Robert Joffrey. Joffrey, of course, is world-famous for his ballet company. Rebekah actually sponsored Joffrey’s original ballet, and the dancers had a “summer camp” at Holiday House. Eventually, Rebekah decided that she wanted to have the Joffrey Ballet renamed as the Harkness Ballet, which he refused, so she retaliated by stealing all of his dancers!
Kristina: It caused a lot of drama in the dance world too. Before connecting with Joffrey, Rebekah was planning on making dance her legacy. She wanted to be known as the premier patroness of the ballet and may have let her own ego get in the way here a bit. Had she worked with Joffrey and continued to support him, her story may have had a different ending.
Mary: She ended up taking all of his dancers and traveling with the ballet all over the world, actually. She put them up in the finest hotels, gave them caviar and champagne… she offered these ballerinas the dream, everything they ever wanted. You probably know more from the Unger book which countries they went to.
Kristina: They went to quite a few different countries, but the one I talk about in Lucky is Egypt— and Rebekah took the dancers on a trip to see all of the sights, like the pyramids. I think the most interesting takeaway from the international touring, however, is that Rebekah didn’t necessarily have the the talent or leadership skills necessary to lead the ballet… she just poured money into the sets, costumes. The performances were extravagant, but fell sort-of flat. The press and reviewers didn’t have the nicest things to say about the tour. Rebekah got a lot of flack for it.
Mary: Right, she fancied herself a ballerina herself. She was quite an amazing dancer. Do you see Jose Greco in the painting? He was a famous flaminco dancer, and she hired him to train her to dance.
It does kind of sound mean what she did, but still, this was a male-dominated time. Women were not in charge of ballets, or anything. I think Rebekah took that on as a challenge. She was the one who got decide what she wanted to do with her money, and she chose to put her money into the arts. I think that’s a plus, a great takeaway. Not all of it has to be bad, right?
Kristina: Definitely not! Another thing I want to say, in regards to that, just because the press (or an author) says something about someone doesn’t make it unequivocally true. I think that is a lesson Taylor Swift has learned throughout the years… the stories written about her are not always the best reflection of who she is as a person. All we have left of Rebekah now are the newspaper articles, raunchy books, and scandalous tales… but, I think she did what she thought she was supposed to do. The most heartbreaking thing about her story, because it ends in such an epic tragedy, is that she was doing what felt right to her.
Mary: This is true. One thing I really appreciated about her, in regards to the dancers for example, she didn’t care about their race, size, hair color, age, or anything. She just cared to support the arts. If you could play the part, she was game to bring you on. I love that about her.
You know, she liked yoga… so, she brought in a world-class yoga instructor, B. K. S. Iyengar. I had to put him in the painting because I think he was a spiritual voice for her. He likely mellowed her. He probably cultured her, brought more color into her life, and helped create a more dynamic and centered nature to her personality.
Just because you have money, doesn’t mean that people will be falling over themselves to do stuff for you… in fact, sometimes it’s the opposite. You have to be quite focused when you have money to make sure you hire the best people to help you live your dream. Her dream was not attainable by not of people because
Kristina: I agree, but I also think that something that caused Rebekah’s downfall was always putting her trust and faith in other people, rather than trying to find answers within herself. She always listening to the sycophants, always around, telling her what she wanted to hear and manipulating her. So, I think that when someone has money, those type of people start coming out of the woodwork.
Mary: It’s just like winning the lottery! You hear all of these crazy stories— like when someone wins the lottery and then their long-lost cousin shows up with a dire illness… and then after you give them money, they turn out not to be your cousin! There are always people who will try to play on your sympathy, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. Rebekah was definitely a victim to that.
Kristina: For sure. I am glad, however, that you included B.K.S. Iyengar. I know the impact yoga has had on my life…
Mary: Me too!
Kristina: I can only imagine what impact learning yoga from one of the greatest yogis of all time had on Rebekah.
Mary: The cat is actually a Ocelot named Babou. A Colombian dignitary or ambassador gave it to Dali as a gift, maybe in exchange for his work, I’m not sure exactly.
Dali was the type of person who always wanted to be on display. He felt that every breath he took was art, an expression of life itself. He was an artist from childhood. He wasn’t formally trained until later in life. If you ever get down to St. Petersburg, Florida, you need to check out the Salvador Dali museum! He has done remarkable work with surrealism. Warping time is one of his most famous things— with the clocks that drip and the Persistence of Memory.
He is the type of artist who also has different skills and backgrounds: like jewelry creation. Rebekah is wearing a brooch in my painting, I think it is called the Starfish of the Sea.
Also, all the black and white in my picture symbolizes something of yesteryear… of people who are no longer with us, but left their legacy with us. I have lots of little symbols throughout my painting.
Kristina: Yes, I read about some of them in your blog! It is so fascinating!
Mary: Do you see this dancer back here? That is Patrick Swayze. If you’ve never seen the movie Ghost with Demi Moore, you should check it out. Patrick Swayze is a famous actor from Texas. He grew up just a normal, All-American guy. He played football, but ultimately hurt himself and was unable to continue playing. Patrick’s mom was a ballerina, and she influenced him for rehab purposes. Patrick Swayze actually got a scholarship that Rebekah financed, for him to go the Harkness Ballet and dance for her.
Kristina: I did not know that!
Mary: It’s such a small, unusual world! Next to Rebekah, we have Scevers.
Mary: Yes, Bobby. Her lover for about 25 years. He was a homosexual and stayed with her for quite a long period of time. He, apparently, really loved her. I know there were plenty of controversies regarding that, which your book goes more into!
Kristina: Yeah. You know, with Rebekah’s relationships… I could have an entire book about those in and of themselves, but I decided to try to more skim the surface of them. I wanted to respect Rebekah and her past lovers, and I realize that none of the information about her love life from her biography used her as a direct source.
So, the stories that are told about you are not always the truth… but I think that Bobby is special because he was one of few people who was with her on her death bed. He may have been the very last person Rebekah saw before she passed away. He clearly had a big impact on Rebekah’s life because she kept coming back to him. You know, she tended to marry doctors, but she kept coming back to the homosexual Bobby Scevers. It really is interesting. I know Rebekah’s children appreciated Bobby being there when she passed.
Mary: It’s rumored that Bobby became depressed when she passed away because he missed her friendship and their love. Aww, such a sweet story. It’s so funny how you see someone like Rebekah being such a harsh, aggressive, man-type of power house… she’s a masculine-female in a male’s world. But she also has a sweet, compassionate side of her too.
I wanted to showcase all of Rebekah’s influences: spiritual, artistic, dance, philosophical, and love.
I also find it fascinating that she did wonderful for so many different dancers of color, like Alvin Aley, who was an incredible dancer. Back in this time, black dancers didn’t have a big shot at getting to the main stage. Rebekah gave them that the leg up… Alvin is one of the most famous black dancers she brought up. He helped her choreograph some of her dances, he traveled with her.
Rebekah also wrote music. She was involved in every facet of art. She donated a lot of money to medicine, to help people with disabilities.
It is so funny that she had such a wild side to her— in fact, she once got kicked off of a cruise ship! She got caught skinny-dipping, she stripped down to nothing!
Kristina: She threw a plate at the conductor of the Philippines welcome band… so much scandal!
Mary: It’s all so scandalous! Of course, that brings me to the key lime dog! Which, I read was a cat… not a dog, at all. Tell me, what have you learned about that from Craig Unger’s book?!
Kristina: Yes! So it was not a dog, it was a cat. It also was not her neighbor’s, but a house guest’s! Rebekah was always playing pranks on people, that was something she was known for, but in this particular instance, the house guest did something that Rebekah didn’t like… then Rebekah dyed the cat green as revenge!
Mary: No way!! How funny! Here’s another part of the painting I wanted to talk about, the Chalice of Life.
“That’s odd,” you may think, “what is that for?” Rebekah actually had this chalice created for her by Salvador Dalí, and I actually really like how you explained the chalice in your book.
Kristina: Thank you! My book is historical fiction, so I obviously took some creative liberties as I am not totally sure what happened. I believe that Dalí was encouraging Rebekah to think about her immortality, and I think they may have had some conversations about the circular nature of life and reincarnation. Here is the excerpt from Lucky:
Much of the time Dalí spent in Watch Hill was under the guise of work. That summer, he began construction of a special, custom piece of art for Rebekah. The Chalice of Life: and 18-karat yellow gold urn, adorned with twisting tree roots, diamond branches, and sapphire butterflies. The urn twirled mechanically, like a tiny dancer in a music box. One day, the urn would hold Rebekah’s ashes.
“Dalí’s Chalice of Life is Mae West’s (Rebekah’s) Holy Grail: it’s how you live in beauty forever!”
Dalí had a strong belief in reincarnation: the transmigration of the soul after death. When we was young, his parents taught him that he was the incarnation of his older brother— a boy also named Salvador, who died nine months to the day before Dalí was born.
After Dalí told Rebekah the story of his family, he easily convinced her that she had been an Egyptian princess in her past life. “Cleopatra!” Dalí proclaimed. “In the Chalice of Life, Mae West will be a princess in her next life, too.”
Lucky, Kristina Parro
Mary: I enjoyed learning that her daughter— whom with she had a tumultuous relationship— found she couldn’t fit in the urn. The chalice was too small! Her ashes were disposed of in a different manner, I guess, and the chalice went to Japan.
Kristina: Yes! It was sold off, as part of her estate. I think that is part of the true tragedy of Rebekah’s story. She pictured herself having a dignified end; she imagining her essence twirling around in the gilded chalice for eternity. The reality of her situation, however, was much different than she had pictured. Her remains were taken home in a plastic grocery store bag, as she didn’t fit into the urn. Then, with all the controversy surrounding her will and estate, I think the chalice was sold a few weeks after her death. It’s so interesting to think about. She spent so much money, thought and time on the Chalice. It was part of her legacy, and it didn’t play out like she expected it to.
Mary: One thing I liked about your book was that you talked about mathematics and the Golden Ratio. I don’t know what is truth or fiction with that, but I did use the Golden Ratio, actually, in this painting. I often do that with my works. So, to me, it is really full circle. Your book beautifully describes the Golden Ratio, and it is something we use so much in classical art. It works sort of like a conch shell— how things keep going inwards and inwards and inwards, or outwards and outwards and outwards into infinity.
Kristina: The Golden Ratio is such a beautiful thing to think about. I originally started learning more about the Golden Ratio when I was analyzing folklore’s lyrics, while I was probing into the pieces, myths, and stories. Somehow, I came across this book about the Golden Ratio by Mario Livio. It is just fascinating to me how, in folklore and Blue Blood, there are so many parallels and references to things related to the Golden Ratio. Then, too, Salvador Dalí— something that is interesting about him, is that there is quite a bit of footage available of him on YouTube— and towards the end of his life, he became obsessed with the Golden Ratio. He thought it held the key to understanding the secret of life. There were just so many weird and serendipitous connections throughout the whole web I had uncovered, that I can’t help but really feel I stumbled upon something profound.
Mary: There is, in fact, in the museum in St. Petersburg a lot of talk about Dalí’s interest in the Golden Ratio. He is most famous for surrealism, but later in his career, he really went back to the classics. He became more religious, spiritual. That’s when he started painting huge canvases. They are beautiful. It is worth taking the time to see some of those of those works.
One last thing! I want to talk about the cards. Rebekah folded her hand, she had bad cards. You can see the little “hmph” in her face. She isn’t happy with the hand she was dealt— symbolically and literally in the painting— and Dalí’s face/expression is like “ha! I won!” Dalí has a flush for his hand of cards, but Taylor Swift, she has a full house. It means she has a full house in Holiday House; she has a full house of memories with everyone visiting and all of their stories; and that Taylor has many more stories to tell. She’s letting us see that, she’s letting us see that part of her world. She’s expanding to new horizons— philosophical, artistic. I just am so happy for her! It’s so remarkable. She is an inspiration to artists, authors, philosophers, visual artists, and everything in between. I was really happy to join in. This painting was truly a work of love.
Kristina: I can tell. The detail and deep meaning is so precise and evident. You have truly done a tremendous job capturing this story. I am quite honestly obsessed with your painting. Is this your personal painting? Is it for sale? What is the situation?
Mary: I have had people interested in purchasing it, but I’m holding onto it at the moment. I eventually would like this to go to Watch Hill. I think this piece belongs in Holiday House. So, Taylor Swift, if you’re out there and reading this, CALL ME!
Kristina: Yes! Do not miss Mary’s giveaway contest of this painting on Instagram! It is going on for the next few weeks. Make sure you follow Mary’s instagram page!
Mary: Yes! And I actually have a blog, too. It is MaryLaGarde.com! I have a blog about this painting that explains each character in more detail.
Kristina: I loved reading that blog. I also think it is so cool that you went to Watch Hill and experienced the energy of Holiday House. I think that place is fascinating— it is so powerful, in terms of universal energy exchange— that that particular place has lured so many of time’s most high-energy people over the last 150+ years. It makes me think about the time-space boundary… and I think that this story brings up philosophical thoughts in that nature. So, I am just happy we connected today and can’t wait to possibly chat more in the future.
Mary: Me too. I also hope everyone out there stays safe. We need to fight through this together. I know that you have experienced the trauma working in healthcare, and many people out there are experiencing trauma. We just need to stick together, now more than ever. Do what you can, do your part, and we will move forward.
Kristina: What a beautiful message. With that, we will let you go, but don’t forget to check out Mary’s blog for even more info about her painting ‘A Marvelous Time.’ By the way, I noticed your blog post was posted on June 10, which happens to be the same date that my book, Lucky, came out! I found that to be so funny!
Mary: Really? Wow, that is ironic.
Mary and Kristina (literally at the same time): Serendipitous!
Topics covered: epiphany, invisible string, the juxtaposition of free will and fate, bonus tracks, karma, and more!
English Teacher KP: What were your thoughts about Taylor Swift’s use of season imagery throughout folklore/evermore— references to winter, summer, specific months? I loved it because, obviously we talk about the hero’s journey and everything being cyclical. What is more cyclical than the seasons? Winter will come, but spring will follow.
Kristina: I have been doing a lot of deep diving into ancient history, philosophy, mythology, the foundations of Western thinking, and even the beginning of language during this past year. I think that the change of seasons is something that is echoed in the greatest art and literature because it’s a universal constant. It’s something like fate or karma, it’s part of our circle of life. I think there is also the idea here of the hero’s journey and death/rebirth. What are your thoughts?
KP: I completely agree. I love, like in august, she doesn’t want the summer to end. That’s such a universal feeling, not wanting summer to end, not wanting to go back to school or leave vacation. Summer is exciting, but then fall comes and things get more drab. Things start to die. Then in winter, everything is dead. It’s interesting that some of the more sad songs happen during winter and have Christmas references and reference the gray of it all. But then, there is also rebirth… in Spring, everything starts to come alive again. It’s just another layer. I think she also uses summer sometimes to represent nostalgia. Sometimes, when we look back on something, it isn’t exactly what we think it is.
Kristina: Our memory is just our perception! That whole idea of perception is reality comes into play here. Does that mean reality is different for different people? There’s just so many questions that go along with that. I think that may be the direction Taylor’s music may be going… I hope she continues to explore some of those deep philosophical questions about what it means to be human. What does it mean to be alive? I think that modern day pop-stars— I see it with Taylor, Billie Eillish/Finneas, and others who write their own music— are philosophers in their own way. I think that the history books will also say a similar thing.
KP: It goes back to everything being a direct reflection of society. Artists are able to capture what we’re feeling as a society, the issues we’re facing as a society, what we believe, and what’s controversial. People who write their own music are so in tune. It’s what I love about poetry. I always say I wish I were a poet.
One of my favorite poetry quotes is, “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling.” If a writer is living in the moment and in tune with what is happening with society, they become in tune with those feelings. Poetry starts flowing out. I think Taylor writes music because she has to, her feelings are something she cant even contain.
Kristina: That’s how I felt when writing my book, Lucky! I had never considered myself much of a writer, but I started writing this book in September— September 18th, actually, was the day I first got access to a copy of Blue Blood by Craig Unger— and by April I had finished writing a 380-page book.
KP: That’s crazy, oh my gosh.
Kristina: I felt like I was using my book to process all of these complex feelings the pandemic was bringing up within me. Writing was all I wanted to do. I felt like it was hard to relate to people, it was more difficult to talk to other people. Everything just flowed out of me through the book. Now, I see so much more how using writing in my life helps me process complex emotions. I would recommend writing to everybody.
KP: I go back to Shakespeare. My students say, “How could he write 154 sonnets?! That’s crazy!” Well, what else was he supposed to do?! He was out of work. There was plague killing everyone. He was having problems with his family. He lost his son. He felt compelled to write through that. He was probably bursting! He had to write about it!
Kristina: It’s amazing because, still to this day, we’re studying him. We relate to him. What a legacy! Which brings up another theme of folklore/evermore… the idea of legacy. I see a realization in these albums. Taylor realizes that her story, her legacy, will not be just defined by what we’re talking about today. Her story— if you’re looking at her life statistically— her graph is so much bigger than she realized. Her legacy may be infinite. And wooh, what a realization!
KP: I think she also realized she could immortalize other people. Like in seven, with her friend, even though she can’t remember every detail she remembers how special that person was. Now, we will always be talking about how special that person is. It’s just like Sonnet 18, when Shakespeare says “I love you, bro. You’re amazing. Yeah, I know you’ll die but you’re actually going to live forever because people will read about you forever.” It’s kind of cocky, but true! It’s a similar thing with seven. Taylor remembers her childhood best friend and immortalizes her forever! She realized her power!
Kristina: I totally agree, but I have to say, seven has so many references to Rebekah Harkness, Blue Blood the biography, word-for-word references.
KP: Man! I need to read it!
Kristina: Yes!! But it’s really hard to find. There was only one edition ever published. You can buy it right now on Amazon for I think $900 and there are only three copies. It’s virtually impossible to find. If any of the people watching are in Chicago, you can find it at the Newberry Library, which is a circulation-only library downtown. But, you can only read it when you’re there!
KP: Wow, fascinating! I need to read that. I’ve heard other people say similar things, but I’m not familiar enough with Rebekah’s story…
Kristina: Let’s see if I can come up with some connections on the spot. In my opinion, seven has to do with Rebekah’s daughter, Edith. Edith was troubled. When she was 9, she first tried to commit suicide. At age 12, of the nannies told her to jump out of a window, and she did it. She does ultimately commit suicide, a few weeks after Rebekah died, with pills stolen from her mother’s death bed-side. Edith was beautiful; peculiar, but interesting. She was obsessed with Peter Pan… and we, of course, see a Peter Pan theme throughout folklore.
“I think your house is haunted, your dad is always mad and that must be why,” is an allusion to Rebekah Harkness (well actually Betty West, Rebekah’s childhood name). In Blue Blood, Craig Unger talks about how there was a rumor going around Betty’s school: her house was haunted. Her father, a business tycoon in St. Louis at the brink of the industrial revolution, was known for his temper. Betty’s friends from school wouldn’t come over to play at Betty’s house, because they were scared of her father.
There are quite a few references throughout folklore, especially, to Blue Blood and the story of Rebekah Harkness. I think Taylor spent a lot of time with that story as she was writing folklore in particular. I encoded a lot of this into my book. Now, trying to come up with exact examples on the spot, I can’t! Maybe sometime I can come on your YouTube channel and we can talk about the symbolism/ parallels between Blue Blood, folklore, and even my book Lucky!
KP: Yeah! I have alot of reading to do! I haven’t read much of Lucky yet, but just reading the prolouge…. You are a fantastic writer! I love reading literature but am not a very good writer, but I think you are very talented. I can’t wait to get the chance to read your book… it’s hard when you have a 5-year-old running around!
Kristina: I’ve tried to encode a lot of symbolism within my book, too. I think you’ll find it interesting. I went deep into mythology, philosophy, story-telling, the foundations of Western thinking. My journey started with my analysis of folklore and reading books Taylor mentioned.
Then, I uncovered a story that gave me so much hope… at a time when I felt so hopeless. Just the fact that an album can do that, and that one artist can have that type of influence on you is a really an amazingly powerful thing. I think that is a beautiful representation of Butterfly Effect/ The Chaos Theory. One small change within you can spark great change in the world around you. I think Taylor may have taken a journey into a more enlightened state over the years, and I think by listening to her music, a similar change can be sparked within you.
KP: What a testament to Taylor and her writing! She’s able to start the Butterfly Effect, or the domino effect… it’s amazing she can do that through her art.
Kristina: I think that’s the power of art, literature, and poetry. That’s why I am so excited that you’re on YouTube and spreading the knowledge! I think some of the answers to our problems can be found encoded in art, literature and music.
KP: And sometimes, the answers aren’t there! Some of my students have asked me, “How do you read the same book over and over and over again every single semester, every class, every day. How do you not get tired of it?!” And I would say, “every time I revisit it I think, what would I have done differently?” You’re forced to take on the perspective of someone else, it forces you to confront your own world-view and to think outside of your own bubble. I think that is so important. Taylor does that in a way that is literature. She forces people to think outside of the perspective where they normally sit. To me, that’s why I wanted to start my YouTube channel. I miss talking about literature. I miss analyzing things, having discussions. I got to ask my students “What would YOU do if you were in that situation.” I get to do that with songs/pop-culture. It really is the same thing as literature!
Kristina: Yes! I was talking about this with another author last week. We were talking about really good stories, but the same thing could be said about poems or song lyrics. The best stories change alongside each new person who experiences them. That includes you, as you read them over and over, you are a different person each time you listen to a song or read a story. I think that specifically songs, like poetry, is amazing because they are made up of small bits. Songs and poetry allows your mind to fill in the rest of your story for yourself.
folklore/evermore came out at a time that the world really needed them… when I really needed them. Thanks to Taylor Swift for creating magic in the chaos. Thank you to English Teacher KP for joining me on Instagram LIVE for this analysis/interview.
Lucky is the story of the American Dream: an epic juxtaposition of glitter and tragedy. Two women- one pop-star, one heiress- are connected through the transcendental nature of time and space. Join America’s favorite pop-star, Rhea Harmonia, as she tumbles down an existential rabbit hole… through American history, Western thinking, math, music, philosophy, and time. Is the American Dream anything but a nightmare?
Follow us on Instagram: @kristinaparrowrites and @englishteacherKP
Meet KP, YouTube’s favorite English teacher. She taught English in the classroom for 7.5 years before transitioning to teaching English online. The purpose of her channel is to share her love for English in a fun and engaging way— by analyzing popular music/literature. I was first introduced to English Teacher KP on Reddit after viewing one of her countless analyses of Taylor Swift songs. My initials are also KP, so right away, I knew we had a lot in common. I couldn’t wait to chat with her more.
Kristina: What originally drew you to Taylor Swift music?
English Teacher KP: I have been an Taylor fan since I was in 10th grade and Taylor’s first album came out. Teardrops on my Guitar and Tim McGraw are a few of my favorite songs. I’ve always liked how Taylor is unapologetic about writing and her own life experiences. She has never been afraid to put it all out there.
Kristina: Have you continued to relate to Taylor’s lyrics as you’ve gotten older?
English Teacher KP: Yes, but I also have love how she has matured. I feel like I have grown up with Taylor Swift. Now, Taylor’s not just writing from her own perspective, but she’s actually telling stories. It’s so beautiful and amazing… it’s what I love about folklore and evermore. She plays around with perspective. These two albums tell stories from multiple perspectives and show that nothing is one-sided. There is a grey area in life and love. folklore/evermore also show that perspective is reality.
It is very much like literature. Perspective is everything in literature.
Kristina: Agreed. Taylor has such a unique human perspective. She seems to be the pinnacle of fame, fortune, and even the American Dream. Taylor’s work can be so meaningful and inspiring because she’s sharing the perspective of someone who, deep down, many of us wish we could live like.
KP: You need to! It reminds me so much about Taylor Swift. It talks about how she was born, perfect and beautiful… but also has so many expectations because of her beauty. My favorite line of the poem (and maybe one of my favorite similes in literature) is: “Her good nature wore out like a fan belt.” If you’ve ever seen Miss Americana, the Taylor Swift documentary, that’s what she talks about. Miss Americana shows that Taylor had all this pressure on her to be skinny, to stay out of politics… but now, it seems that she is working to shed the expectations and just be who she is. I love it, because I think many artists are scared to do that.
Kristina: I mean, it is scary to bare yourself to the world and be authentic… even in your day-to-day life, not to mention on a world stage. Taylor is unique in that way. What do you think that knowing more about the artist behind the music/ author behind the story contributes to your interpretation of the piece of art?
KP: I honestly try to leave that out of it. I love literary criticism. I love the idea that once the text is written, it’s alive. It’s living and breathing… it’s totally separate from the author. There was a whole movement in literature called “Death of the Author.” Now, the text can mean whatever you want it to mean, as long as you have textual evidence to back it up. Sometimes that is difficult, but I try to leave what I know about Taylor out of it… because her work is art and it means so much to so many different people.
Kristina: I watched your mirrorball analysis video and wrote down a similar sentiment, which was followed by “art and literature is a direct reflection of the society around it.” I like the idea of folklore and evermore being pieces of pandemic art… I think that these two albums will be studied for years to come as a part of this crazy time we all just experienced, a period of collective trauma.
KP: I completely agree. I’ve said this countless times, and people probably think I’m crazy, but I believe that Taylor Swift’s music will be studied the way Shakespeare is studied. His sonnets were written during a time that theaters were shut down and people couldn’t go out because of plague. When you go back and look at his sonnets, you can see that. I think that is going to happen with folklore and evermore, exactly like you are saying. Taylor is just so good. I can’t imagine more teachers not jumping on the Taylor Swift train. When I was in the classroom, I used her lyrics all the time. You can do the same thing with a Taylor Swift song that you can with a sonnet.
Kristina: Absolutely! There’s so much deep meaning and complex references in her music that an entire college course could be taught about one album! Especially folklore/evermore. What would you say are some of the biggest themes you see in these albums? We can talk about them individually or them linked, because there are obviously a lot of shared connections between the two.
KP: If we are talking about “theme” as a “universal takeaway”— that is the definition we would use in literature— I think the idea is that love is a gray moral area. Life, and love, are not black and white situations. Take the love triangle from folklore… that is a perfect example. In betty, James gets a lot of hate. But if you honestly listen to it, you feel bad for him because you’re seeing HIS perspective. In august, you see another perspective, and so your feelings change. Perspective is everything. People are not good, or bad, or right, or wrong. Taylor does such a good job depicting that as another theme throughout both albums. Like in exile… you get both perspectives in a dissolving relationship. No one’s right or wrong. It’s gray.
Kristina: That reminds me of art being a reflection of the society around us. How many of us have been taught that there IS a “right path” and that there is a “good way” to act? “Be careful if you end up on the “wrong path”,” we’re warned, “because of the monsters lurking in the shadows.”
I was an essential healthcare worker during the pandemic who worked in a nursing home as an SLP. My nursing home got hit hard with COVID at the beginning of the pandemic. Right then, I noticed shift in my own perspective. I used to think that, by being a healthcare worker, I was doing the “right thing” or the “good thing.” But then, as the pandemic played out and I realized that I didn’t get hazard pay or sick time to cover me in the case I got COVID, I ultimately quit my job and began to focus on writing full time. That is not something I would have been able to do without the realization that doing the thing that you think is “right or good” isn’t always the right thing for you to do.
KP: We talked about mirrorball earlier, which symbolizes reflection. Really, both albums are filled with reflection. You can see with many songs, such as long story short and closure, how Taylor has gone through a journey of self reflection, revelation; then how she moved on. There’s this “hero journey” archetype throughout, and I think Taylor’s own journey plays out in both albums.
Kristina: Oh yeah. There are some deep themes related to mythology throughout the albums as well. The idea of the “hero archetype” goes back to mythology. I discovered something similar as I was writing my book. I talk about the idea of the hero, villain, and rescuer… and how those are three roles you can see in the stories around you. Being the hero is fine and dandy, but there is a fine line because the line between good and evil. You don’t want to be the victim. And then with the rescuer, the line between being the hero and victim is very thin again.
KP: I love that, because it also begs the question: you may be the hero in YOUR story, but what are you in someone else’s story? You may be the villain, or the victim. It again goes back to perspective. That’s what I love about these albums… there is so much interconnected. You peel back layer after layer and uncover a masterpiece.
Kristina: It’s true… and perspective is reality. Another theme I noticed that you kept coming back to in your lyric analysis videos is the idea of death and rebirth, of new beginnings. I notice that, throughout folklore and evermore, and even in Taylor’s entire discography, are allusions to a “cycle of life.”
KP: I think the music video for willow is a great example of that. In willow, she goes into a dark place, some may call it the abyss of the hero’s journey… everyone’s wearing hoods and looking kind of sketchy. She follows the golden thread out, and that’s the idea of “rebirth”. This reminds me of the hero’s journey archetype. Part of that story is when the hero goes through something really bad or dark, leading to transformation and atonement. Afterwards, the hero is reborn.
Kristina: If you think about Taylor’s entire collection of music, you see that. Taylor was so celebrated at the beginning of her career… and then we had the album, reputation. Taylor wrote some great poetry during that era, like Why She Disappeared. “And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.” I would imagine this idea has been on Taylor’s mind since about then.
KP: Yes, I think reputation was a huge turning point for her. You can see that it was a huge turning point in her music and the themes you were seeing in her music… that was a time of incredible transformation for her.
Kristina: I think our entire world needs transformation right now, and that may be why Taylor’s music is resonating with people so deeply.
Part 2 is coming soon, where KP and I talk more folklore/evermore themes including: fate, death/rebirth, cycle of life, seasons, legacy and more!