FRAN ALEXANDER by Lauren Spohrer
04/01/10
 

illustration by John Dermot Woods

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Fran Alexander famously brought cans of condensed milk to the teahouse so that she would never have to leave. Her standards, that is, were impossibly high.

There is broadness in the explanations of this biography that makes them permanently serviceable, but no one remembers Alexander depressed. "She left us because she was tired," her mother says. "She could never relax in this world; at night she would rub the soles of her feet together so forcefully I could hear them." If you're thinking Alexander got carried away, have candor. Who among us has not lain in bed, drunk, listening to rap?

Whether identification with our subject is imagined or merely based in coincidence, the biographer has a duty to honor both discord and harmony—for instance, her birthday was January 26th, 1917, and mine is January 26th, 1977. Her mother's name is Helen, as is mine. Her family moved from New York to Jacksonville, Florida, from 1927 to 1929. My family lived in Jacksonville when I was born. Fran broke her right leg in 1931. I broke my right leg in 1991. If you'll indulge me, her last name is Alexander, mine is MacQueen and together these names create "Alexander MacQueen" (yes, the British character actor b. 1974). If you drop the "a" from "MacQueen" you have the name of my favorite fashion designer "Alexander McQueen," who succeeded John Galliano at Givenchy before designing in his own name, notably for the Icelandic pop star Björk. Honoring discord and harmony, sacrifices and gifts, the biographer passes over the strictures of literary criticism into perfectly healthy spiritual realms. It is to this process Alexander referred when she wrote the lines:
                      Your look-at-me is some amount of gold
                      To spread around with vigor
                      And rely upon, as my own upon

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Lauren Spohrer has recently published fiction in the Mississippi Review and Failbetter. She can be found at laurenspohrer.com.
 
 
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