(24 march 2011)
i wrote the sister again.
yes, the sister has already informed me she does not give interviews about jackie, but considering i have very little to lose beyond pride and dignity and all that shit that i’m pretty sure i shouldn’t value quite so much as i do, i wrote her again.
this brings me the closest to groveling that i have thus far come. and i can proudly say with some dignity, i don’t feel the least bit bad about it.
(11 march 2011)
i always, without fail, forget toothpaste. the brush i bring, but not the paste. always. never mind how much i travel, in the socialist society that only exists in my mind, toothpaste is a government-provided given along with healthcare and toilet paper and milk and cake.
i’m of the firm opinion that dental hygiene is not a detail towards which i should have to put forethought. the tools should simply be there.
i am alone in new york and i have no toothpaste. wearing a polka-dot dress and red lipstick, i go to the front desk and ask for a map and toothpaste.
read: i’m a totally cute lost girl with bad breath.
this is not my ideal biographical persona.
there is no toothpaste at the front desk. it is already five minutes past my ideal departure time. it’s one of those mornings where nothing will be idyllic.
ten minutes past my ideal departure time, toothpaste is procured.
ten minutes into my conversation with stacy schiff, when i lean forward to write my email address under the jfk quote she says she will email to me, i flashback to that moment nine minutes past my ideal departure time- the moment just before the kindly woman knocked on my door- where i wondered if i could brave a biographical conference without brushing my teeth and i thank my lucky stars i put my faith in the housekeeping staff of the times square best western and waited that extra minute.
because there’s a slim chance stacy schiff may remember me. it’s early days yet, but i’m quite certain i’d rather be the girl in the polka dot dress who loved the vera nabokov book than the one with the weird email address who didn’t brush her teeth.
(1 march 2011)
identifying a biographical subject is like falling in love.
not the easy head over heels at first sight business that always happened at sweet valley high. it’s more like when you’ve been around and you’re damaged and you’re very much not at your best and you know that and you meet someone and you run and you hide and you play coy and be awkward- but at the same time, you can tell. on some level, you just know- you’re going to let them have you in the end. you don’t know what that’ll look like and you don’t know what it means and you’re pretty sure it’ll make you question everything you’ve ever known but, nonetheless, you know they’re gonna get you.
that was jackie. there has only ever been jackie. there was never another.
i didn’t always want her, i wasn’t always ready for her, but she was always there.
a few weeks ago, a friend leaned against the brick wall outside debonair, took a drag on my cigar, looked me in the eye and asked, are you ever going to write about anyone else?
i said i honestly did not know. because i honestly do not know.
jackie’s is the story that’s going to dominate my biographical life. it’s probably safe to assume that, but i’ve always left room for others. there’d just never been any.
it’s funny. the longer you live, the more sensitive you become to small events, little twists. things that never play out exactly as they did before, but they’re similar enough that you recognize the emotions, the tug of the heart, and you can guess what that pull means. you know enough to go ahead and attribute to it an importance it may or may not ultimately assume, and to make it a part of the story now, even if it falls by the wayside later on.
it had always been jackie. there was never anyone else.
at 4:26 on last friday afternoon, i found her. she is not jackie. she is a total stranger and yet i knew. i just knew, with the total conviction and deep satisfaction of one clicking a last puzzle piece in place.
i wish there were more words for it. i wish there were any words for it. i wish i could explain the inexplicable clinch of the heart that happened then because then everyone would understand once and for all why anyone would ever be compelled to do what it is that i want to do.
all i can say is that it was 4:26, and it was love at first sight.
a reaction of such visceral strength that it seemed important to document the time. as though we would one day divide the epochs based on this, with a clearcut delineation of the before and after.
i greet my father in the train station, flushed from excitement and waving a sheaf of printed obituaries above my head like a flag of surrender. i am wild. he is cautious.
i call my mother and say, i felt it. mummy, i felt it, and she gets it instantly without my saying anything else. she knows this is big. she knows that when i cannot find the words, we’re in for something monumental.
i’m reluctant to write about any of this, because, odds are, nothing will come of it. odds are that it’ll be like that epic civil war novel that never was that i set out to write the summer i turned ten.
it may very well just be proof that i’m not confined to jackie after all. that i’ve been dreaming in a tiny box when, in reality, this is a magic without limits.
but i’ve been recording a process here. the process of writing a book about jackie in paris and the million unexpected directions that leads. i’ve been banking on the notion that even if there is, in fact, no there there, the story of getting to the there that didn’t exist will be just as interesting. i don’t know yet if that’s going to hold true.
what i do know is that this story of that moment, of 4:26 on last friday afternoon, cannot be left out. because i felt it. i felt IT. i cannot find the words, but it’s big. and, come what may, we are in for something monumental.
(23 february 2011)
i am hereby formally pleased to announce that i have found what has a higher chance than anything else i have ever found before of being dame elizabeth taylor’s actual mailing address.
as in, when you google map it and do the street view and turn the little person icon all around, the street the little person icon views looks like a street elizabeth taylor might actually live on.
this is tremendous progress given that all prior addresses have yielded street views that do not look like places where drug dealers would live. much less liz taylor.
and, yes, dear world, this is who i am now. my research practices are dependent upon google street view.
despite the fact that the period of intensive googling i have devoted to the finding of this information could be characterized as stalking if that was a word of which you were excessively fond, i’m actually doing liz taylor a very great kindness. because this is information on which i have been sitting for over a week now.
i have her address. i have not yet written her a letter.
you may or may not have known- since it has gotten shockingly little press attention- that elizabeth taylor was hospitalized last week. the very day, in fact, after i found her address.
you may or may not also remember that the people i write regarding jackie have either died immediately before my finding them or taken to their deathbeds shortly thereafter.
it is a noble thing i’m doing here, in not writing liz taylor. i am, clearly, saving her life.
this is not an act entirely devoid of selfishness. because i’m counting heavily upon the hope that once she is better, liz taylor will see the error of her ways. realizing that her last interview cannot have been one with kim kardashian, she will- surely! obviously! of course!- grant an audience to an unknown. she will- surely! obviously! of course! maybe?- speak to me.
(22 february 2011)
at the suggestion of my father, i have enrolled in a speech class. because things are happening and the sex toboggans are rolling into various towns around the world and it would be useful, as i roll into various towns around the world with them, to be able to discuss the sex toboggans in a somewhat captivating way.
as most always happens, i set out to do things- big things! adventures!- and there is this vision in my head of how they will happen- flawlessly! gloriously! with much applause!- and then… everything is absurd.
i went to speech class. actually, first, i took a scenic tour of the emergency room of the masonic medical center looking for a 7th floor auditorium that did not exist. then i went to a speech class.
and after my encounter with a one-legged man lying near death on a stretcher, speech class didn’t seem so scary.
people always suggest that you imagine your audience in their underwear. i’ve never found that helpful.
it is somehow much more helpful to operate under threat. to think that if i do not get up there, if i do not push myself and speak, then i’ll be forced to take another tour of the masonic medical center emergency room. and made to look the one-legged man in the eye.
(18 february 2011)
if it is challenging to explain why one is good at what one does, it’s nearly impossible to put a price on it.
i have been asked to establish my fee.
this is a process enormously complicated by the fact that my fee has, thus far, been in the very wee digits. but i’m trying to be a biographer. like, for real. and i know the very wee digits do not help me do that.
so i am sitting on the fainting couch that is symbolic of my adulthood trying to solve a problem i’ve wrestled with since i began baby-sitting in middle school, when i took whatever they gave me at the end of the night and sacrificed many a friday evening for $5.95.
please note: the national minimum wage was $4.75 per hour. mine was $1.98.
that’s a monumental gap. as is the distance between $13.75 per hour and $75.
and while i know, in reality, i’m just determining the financial value of my hours, it feels like i’m being called upon to do so much more than that.
i’ve been asked to establish my fee. in doing so, i’m defining my value.
i’m sitting on the fainting couch that symbolizes my adulthood facing that girl who gave up her friday nights for $5.95.
it takes tremendous effort to not sell myself short. to admit what i think i’m worth.
(16 february 2011)
we have reached a point where i am, for the first time, facing the very great financial cost of what i want to do.
in a perfect world, jackie would pay for herself. in reality, it is unlikely she ever will.
this isn’t entirely unexpected. you don’t spend a small fortune to get a degree in writing and imagine yourself rolling in millions. so long as i can afford a bottle of andré and the occasional betsy johnson from the resale shop, i’m truly more than pleased.
but this goes against pretty much most everything everyone will ever tell you. this idea that it is better to do what you love than what you should and what is safe. in talking about jackie with people, i am repeatedly reminded that, despite my “romantic” notions of being a writer, i still have to eat. and have a home. and “settle down.”
i had a friend once, who began nearly every discussion we ever had with the question, where do you see yourself in five years?
at the time, i found this terribly daunting. i think it downright foolish now.
we, as a culture, put so much stock in having an end point- some mystical time in which our lives will fall together and look exactly as we want them to be. i detest this. i struggle with it daily, but i detest it all the same.
because there is no end point. no job or marriage or baby or home that’s going to make you a better you. there is simply life. we none of us know where we’re going and, in thinking we do, we miss so very much along the way.
i am writing a jackie book about the jackie book that i am trying to write but likely never will because it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is simply no there there.
which brings us to my mother. who, in the middle of a prolonged discussion of the benefits of organic, grass-fed meats, says the most maudlin thing ever, which is, nonetheless, the exact thing i needed to hear. she pauses, inhales and says: you know something’s going to come of this right? this jackie stuff? you’ll get there when you get there, but until then, God, what an adventure you’ve got.