Author Marcia Gloster on “31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction”
Marcia Gloster’s memoir, 31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction, centers on her time as a college student traveling through Europe in the summer of 1963. When she arrived in Salzburg, Austria to study at Oskar Kokoschka’s School of Vision, she envisioned a month of intensive painting, never expecting to find herself swept into a passionate affair. Marcia answers our questions about her vivid and sensual memoir.
What does the 31 Days in the title represent?
31 Days is the story of one month in the summer of 1963 that I spent at a school in Salzburg, Austria. “The School of Vision,” as it was called, was overseen by the famous European artist Oskar Kokoschka and attended mostly by European and British students; very few Americans ever went there. Kokoschka’s instructors, artists from England, Italy, France and Germany, each taught classes in their own language.
The first moment I met my instructor in the English class, time, quite simply, stopped. He was attractive, yet far from the handsomest men I had ever met. But it wasn’t his looks that stopped me. He radiated a sensuality that I instinctively recognized–and that frightened me. It was only later I found out that not only was he married, but he had a mistress as well.
I cautioned myself to stay away from him and was also warned by a group of male students that not only was he almost twice my age, but he liked to seduce young girls and then a day or two later, break it off.
Yet only a few days into the session I found myself in his bed.
In writing 31 Days, A Memoir of Seduction, I wanted to tell the story not only of a passionate and turbulent affair, but also provide an intimate portrait of the artists with whom I shared the seductive Salzburg days and nights.
What, after all these years, inspired you to write 31 Days?
It was a moment, totally out of the blue and unexpected. I hadn’t thought about that summer in years, not consciously. I heard a song one afternoon in a store and stopped to listen. As it played, I actually saw a “vision”—which I know sounds really strange. That vision, an actual image in my mind, was just a second, probably less. It was as though something was being given to me, and believe me, I’m a pragmatist; these things don’t happen to me. I was shaken and knew I had been in some sort of strange daze. As I left the store, I suddenly realized I had a name and the first page of a story, my story. I practically ran home, pushed all my work aside and began to write. I didn’t think about it. I just did it. It was that fast.
Have you returned to Salzburg since the summer you went to Oskar Kokoschka’s ‘School of Vision’? If so, how has the place changed since you were 20, and how did you react to returning to a place filled with so many memories?
When I left Salzburg that August, I said I’d never go back. But in writing the book, I was compelled to return. I’ve been back three times. It was amazing meeting with Kortokraks, one of the instructors from that summer, who is still living there. I spent hours talking with him.
The Old City looks the same and some of our bars and restaurants are still there. Our classrooms in the fortress are now part of a museum. But if there were any ghosts, they had gone, and so, only the memories remain. There are still times I have to remind myself it was not a dream.
Does the memoir resolve something that’s been haunting you for some time now, and if so, what?
I wouldn’t say so. I don’t think it ever “haunted” me. Years ago, I thought about writing it, but I didn’t know how to begin and besides, I was working and living my life. Also, by then I had relegated the entire experience to the past. The one thing that was consistent throughout the years was that whenever I thought about that summer, I always pictured one of my English friends saying, “Someone should write a book about this.”
But I wasn’t there yet—or, more likely, I didn’t know how to begin to write it. I’m very much a believer in time and place. And when that “moment” occurred, it was obviously the right time, despite that it was in a strange place. But I now sometimes wonder if we don’t choose these things and maybe, somehow, they choose us. That’s a bit spiritual for me, but it’s how I view it.
How did that summer affect the rest of your life?
I simply wanted to “be” Bill (the man I became involved with). Or perhaps it would be better to say I wanted to emulate his life—the life of an artist who was confident and free to do whatever he wanted without answering to anyone but himself. In Salzburg, I watched him control and manipulate his world. He taught painting all day and at night went out to the bars and beer halls to meet up with his friends, mostly other artists. Everyone drank, smoked, gossiped and told wild, raunchy stories. Later, I’d leave with him. We’d go back to his flat to make love and sometimes talk the rest of the night.
Those nights for me as a young aspiring painter were a dream come true. It was romantic in the sense that we all (including my friends) felt as though we were unique, in a place apart from the rest of the world. We were artists and everyone outside was not. That made us special and free. There were no rules. It was our moment of Camelot, and we all knew it could never happen again.
On the serious side, Bill was a dedicated painter. He once told me that art was his life and what he was here on earth to do.
I took several things from him that influenced my life: his concepts of freedom and independence, his confidence in his work and in his life, as well his dedication to his art. He lived his life by his rules, and I admired the fact that he didn’t follow trends.
What advice would you offer to someone in a similar situation?
Honestly, I’d say, “Go for it. Don’t sit back and watch.” Life goes by too fast and you have to participate. Don’t ever say, “I wish I had done that.” By then, it’s too late. You’ve got one shot at it. But whatever you do—you have to think about it; make choices, take responsibility for your actions and hopefully have no regrets. Whether it’s another person, a job, whatever, it’s an experience, good or bad. You can only try to make the right choices, and if it doesn’t turn out as you hoped, you may be unhappy, upset or whatever, but you have to believe that there will always be other people and other opportunities that will come your way. You can’t be afraid; you have to keep going.
What would be different about your life today had you not spent that summer in Salzburg?
Who knows? Who we become is the sum total of our experiences. I chose to have that relationship with that person. It impacted my life and it became an essential part of my history.
What books are on your night stand?
I am re-reading Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera – also The Last Apocalypse by James Reston, Jr. about Europe a millennium ago.
Are you currently writing another book?
Yes. I’m writing a novel. It’s called I Love You Today and tells the story of an affair and a marriage. It’s written from the individual viewpoints of the man and the woman, each of whom is experiencing the same events. It’s about the truths and lies we tell each other and ourselves.
Born in Los Angeles, Marcia Gloster has lived the majority of her life in New York City, during which time she built a career as an award-winning art director and book designer. She is a member of the National Association of Women Artists in New York City and Studio Montclair in New Jersey and has exhibited her paintings in New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 31 Days is her first book. Learn more and order your copy here.
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