Growing up in a wealthy family in New Orleans with everything she ever wanted, 71-year-old Carol Pulitzer never worried about money until a decade ago, living alone in North Carolina with two marriages behind her, she realized her money was running out. “I was practically down to nothing and felt fear like I had never felt before. This was Carol’s “wake-up call,” she remembered.
Today, back home in New Orleans, Carol is “much happier” living without much money. “Money was just always a burden,” said the talented writer and artist, who recently self-published two illustrated books, one fiction, the other nonfiction, all super- short stories, many based on her experiences.
And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, Carol’s had remarkable experiences, some of them downright devastating, including the accidental deaths of her daredevil brother when he was days away from his 21st birthday and her 26-year-old son, Nick, from drugs.
When my Nick set sail at 26 a giant hole took up residence in my heart. At the time of his passing I cursed God, then I begged God to let me off the wheel of life, and then finally Nick intervened and gave me the gift of knowing life rolls on after death, Carol writes in her story MY NICK SETS SAIL from her book MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED: A COLLECTION OF VERY SHORT ILLUSTRATED NONFICTION WITH RECIPES
Interviewing Carol was an experience in itself, because she’s witty, wise and, most of all, thought provoking. Meet Carol.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD
“I had a really sad family. My sister is three years older and is mentally disabled. It’s so hard, so hard, to have a disabled member of your family. My older brother was the light of the family. He always went fast…motorcycles, planes, cars…and was just wild, but everyone adored him. Like a mad scientist, he refurbished a World War II plane that hadn’t been used in the war because of a design flaw, but he died flying that plane. So full of life that he burned out fast. My family was just blown to bits. I was this young, vital girl and everyone in the house was crying. It was just terrible. I ran away from the situation as soon as I could, enrolling myself in boarding school in Memphis, TN.”
YOU CAME FROM A WEALTHY FAMILY. WHAT WAS YOUR ATTITUDE ABOUT MONEY AS YOU GREW UP?
“Although both my parents were orphaned, by the time I was born, my father and his brother owned a hugely successful necktie business. Although being rich defined me, I never felt the money was mine and I did everything in my power to throw it away. I dated only men without money. I paid for everything, so I’d blown all my money by the time I got older.
“I could have done great things with the money that was handed to me. Renovated houses, created a business, helped others. I never really took charge of my life, it took charge of me. It just took me so much longer than normal people to wake up, grow up and develop coping skills because I didn’t have to. When you’re young, you look good, your body is in great physical shape, but mentally you don’t know what you’re doing. Then it all gets reversed. You look in the mirror and see the years, you buy pants with elastic waists, but you have so much more wisdom.”
WHAT DID YOU DO AFTER BOARDING SCHOOL?
“I went to the University of Texas and then I came home and went to Tulane. I liked the idea of school more than I liked school. It was the 1960s and I was partying and doing LSD. Not smart. When I look back at the access I had such incredible libraries and instructors at the University of Texas, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I really think they should defer college for four years, have all kids work in some kind of service first”
DID YOU WORK AFTER COLLEGE?
The girls in our family weren’t allowed to work in the family business, and the boys weren’t allowed to do anything but work in the family business, a lose/lose situation. But I forced my way into the business after my dad died, but I wasn’t welcome and it was a bad situation. Then I got a design job at a boy’s knitwear company in New York and after that went to the NY Restaurant School since I’d always loved to cook and had restaurant fantasies. I’ve also done a million things to earn some money, including illustrations for magazines, product lines like decorative garden stakes, and a line of cocktail napkins, but I didn’t really make much. Although I’m grateful I didn’t have the constant stress of needing to earn money to live, I would do it all differently if I had a do over.”
TELL US ABOUT YOUR TWO HUSBANDS
“Jimmy, the man who would become my second husband, was my boyfriend when I was a junior at Tulane. A real adventurer, he went around the world on a freighter after he graduated. The story 1972 is loosely based on him.
“While Jimmy was off traveling, I met a beautiful man at a summer party in New Orleans who was about to go off to Harvard grad school to study linguistics. I wound up driving to Cambridge, where we married and lived for four years. It was a starter marriage. The story Bad Honeymoon is about the ‘honeymoon’ in Paris that I took with my ex-first husband after not seeing him for 40 years. Even though I love the city, the trip was not good.
As it happens now and again, an ex-husband appeared in my inbox … this one after 40 years. So much had been forgotten, for instance that he could be both mean and weird. That didn’t stop me from accepting his invitation to meet in Paris at a 4-Star hotel so he could give me the honeymoon he hadn’t been able to afford as a graduate student.
“Jimmy and I eventually got back together and moved to California, where we married, had our son Nick, and lived for 20 years. He was a writer. I’m not a fan of marriage. I like living alone.”
AND YOUR SON NICK?
“Nick was 14 when Jimmy and I broke up and he went back and forth between us, but spent more time with his father. Just like me when I was young, he never followed the rules. And, he couldn’t stand me telling him what to do. I was the bad cop with him, the one who said no. He adored me but resented me at the same time. He died almost four years ago.”
WHAT DID YOU DO WHEN YOUR MONEY STARTING RUNNING OUT?
“When I was down to practically nothing, I came back to New Orleans where you can live really cheaply back then, and I just started living in a new way. While I was catching up on the city, since I hadn’t been back for about 30 years, I came across a website called ViaNoLaVie and sent them one of my stories, which I had never shown to anyone. They accepted it, so I started writing for them about food, art, and interesting people who pass through the city. It was a great reentry into New Orleans for me. When my mother died a couple of years later, she left me with enough money to get me out of hot water for a few more years. I live modestly now and have no desire to buy things.”
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE YOUR TWO BOOKS AND WHAT DO THEY REPRESENT TO YOU?
“Books carry me away. I’m a fool for books. I wrote and illustrated my first story when I was 30 and living in New York. I’ve written stories my entire adult life and never showed them to anyone. I just did them. At 71 you don’t have much more time to waste, so I said If I can do these books, I can die happy. Then self-publishing came along and made it possible to create my books exactly as I envisioned them, with lots of illustrations and irreverence. I never had a desire to be published by a traditional publisher, where you hand off your baby and lose all control. Writing LITTLE THEATRE and MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED is all I ever wanted to do so I feel like I scratched a 40-year itch.
“I’ve also compiled books since 1973 on cooking, art, and my son Nick, which has stories of him growing up with lots of pictures and funny things he said that I otherwise would have forgotten. I think of these projects as family heirlooms. I believe everyone wants to make a mark. All the chemicals in the universe came together to make you, so it would be a shame to disappear without a trace!”
WHICH DO YOU PREFER, ILLUSTRATING OR WRITING?
“I prefer pots of color, brushes and the big messes of making art, but I’m happier with the results of my writing even though the process isn’t as much fun. I love short-short stories because you find out what happened and how it turned out at the end so quickly.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE STORIES?
“I really like MY UFO which is about the insane thing that happened to me one night in New Mexico.
My eyes snapped open at 3 am exactly, I walked to the dresser, picked up my flashlight and left my room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in my pj’s and indoors-only slippers down a path I didn’t know existed, out into the New Mexico desert, flat open shrubland hooded by Mt Taos.
I looked up into a sky that made no sense. There were no stars other than 6 dripping diamond-shaped clusters of fat lights very low in the sky. Like Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the rest of the sky was navy and black swirls all in motion!
BTW, LOVE YOUR HAIR
“Thank you. Hair is a big thing, isn’t it? I was white haired by the time I turned 40. I get compliments on it everyday. If you have to go gray, this is the gray you want to go. I always wanted a straight bob with bangs like Buster Brown. I finally discovered the straightening iron.”
WORDS OF ADVICE ABOUT FOLLOWING YOUR PASSION
“Do it! I’m running about 30 years late but I managed to do what I was sent here to do.”