choose your own adventure


the eaton family question of the week (and i know you’re thinking, wait. they have a question of the week? yes. we also have a vegetable of the year. we’re cool. deal with it.) is this:

but oh yes… the game has rules.

you must pick one of the five following scenarios. you do not know if you are a man or a woman, rich or poor, well-educated, well-fed, well-shod, or well-armed. you have no super-human powers. in each case, there are clear advantages and clear disadvantages and in most cases you may or may not live, though in some you probably will and in others you most certainly will not.

the scenarios are these:

(1) titanic
pluses- you have sailed on titanic! if you’re a first class passenger, you presumably own a wardrobe valued at more than all our annual salaries combined. if you’re a woman in first class, you will survive.

minuses- 28 degree waters. if you’re a member of the crew, a woman or child in 2nd class or steerage, or a man, you’re dead. and there’s a slim chance you’ll be that guy who looked into kate winslet’s eyes when the bow was extended to 90 degrees, lost his grip and fell the whole way down, bashing into every obstruction on the decks on his way.

(2) pickett’s charge
pluses- you think you are fighting for a Glorious Cause! you and the 12,499 men standing with you are roused to victory by a stirring speech that will later be immortalized by martin sheen. you do not yet know the age of napoleonic warfare has come to an end.

minuses- the age of napoleonic warfare has come to an end. this realization will dawn while you are walking in a wool suit through 87 degree heat across a HUGE field directly into an army’s worth of guns. there’s a 99% that you will be hurt. there’s a 50+% chance you will die. if you happen to be directly under pickett, you’re pretty much dead before you’ve begun.

(3) the alamo
pluses- you have guns!

minuses- you will die, but you get to shoot back.

(4) the hindenburg
pluses- you enjoy a beautiful trip aboard one of the largest flying machines of any kind ever built! there’s a 64% chance you will live. there’s a 50% chance you will meet indiana jones.

minuses- you are flying through the air in a bag of burning gas.

(5) the spaceship columbia
pluses- you have been to outer space! your mission is complete.

minuses- your ride home will disintegrate, melt and fall to the earth in a million pieces. you will die.

the question is this:

in which of these disasters would you prefer to be?


taking a play out of the Lara Ehrlich Playbook of Successfully Gaining Success Now That You’ve Successfully Attained Your Overpriced Liberal Arts Degree, i owned up to the fact that what i want to be is a “writer/editor” and ordered business cards.

they came the other day. pretty! see:

i can only imagine how people must feel upon having published an actual book. all i did was successfully convey my contact information so that is was properly printed on a piece of chipboard and now i want to shower the resulting incandescently beautiful product around the world like confetti.

here’s the thing though. the package came with a handful of leftovers and samples and as incandescently beautiful as my card is, i know that one day- maybe in the long long way far off but one day nonetheless- when money is no longer an option and it isn’t so much a matter of manning up to declare myself a “writer/editor” as ballsing up to embrace hot pink, this card that is merely a sample now will be mine:

oh the places you’ll go

(11 april 2011)

here’s where we are:

i am a red-headed, sexy dancing, cheeky chick who, instead of writing her jackie in paris book, is freelance editing a biography and on the verge of a sex tobaggan speaking tour.

yes, yes, this is impossibly glamorous. you are all bowing before my gold glittered stillettos in the face of the combined seven double-spaced pages that comprise the entirety of the recent string of success of faith/fath caroline/caroline/oline eaton.

i’ve been recording a process here. the process of writing a book about jackie in paris and the million unexpected directions that may lead. i’ve been banking on the notion that the story of getting to the there that doesn’t exist will be just as interesting as it would have been had i found the actual story. i still don’t know whether that holds true.

but i do know the red hair is important.

there was not a single fan of the black hair in my family. in my mother’s immortal words: you don’t look like you anymore. after my having not looked like me for five years, you can imagine her relief upon the discovery that a friend needed a model and wanted me.

for two solid months, every friday my mother asked: is this the weekend you get the red hair?

through all of winter, my family looked upon my friend k.lo as a messianic figure- a savior come to wipe away the horror that was herbal essences midnight noir so that i would once again look like me as opposed to the scary gothbeast i’d apparently been for much of the late 00s.

second only to my mother’s excitement was that of my grandmother, who trilled an oooooooooooooh worthy of a twihard and remarked matter-of-factly: people remember redheads.

there were many reasons for the red hair. i was sick of black. k.lo is a styling goddess. it was free.

but also, i’ve concluded that in a field dominated by baby boomer men, the only surefire way to make an impact is to be a biographical lady gaga. red hair pretty much makes that real.

the problem with red hair is that it’s outrageously demanding. you can’t wash it every day because it fades. when you do wash it, it needs cold water and special shampoos. in the face of all this, i had the brave new idea that it might be wiser to give up on washing and funnel my energies into styling instead.

that is why i, biographical glamor goddessoline, spent a saturday night alone in my apartment rolling the red hair up in rag curlers. and it is how i wound up ireedemably clowny come sunday a.m.

pay day

(7 april 2011)

wednesday: the day biographically-made money hit my bank account.


as in, no waiting for checks in the mail. no depositing checks in the bank. there was simply an invoice requesting payment and then BAM! as if by magic, there was money in my bank.

granted, this was a reimbursement for 1.3333333333 hours of work, which defrays approximately 1.9% of the expenses i’ve incurred thus far, which is a demoralizing thought so we’re not going to dwell on it.

instead, we’re going to pause here and acknowledge that this was, in some small way, momentous. because for the first time, someone paid me, at a rate that i had set, to do something i absolutely love. i was well paid for 1.33333333 hours of fun and there are few things so lovely as that.

just desserts

(1 april 2011)

on 21 may 1994, in mrs. watson’s 7th grade science class, a girl in white short shorts met jackie.

at the age of 14, before ebay was ever invented, this girl begged her parents to take her to antique stores and began funneling all her lawn mowing money into vintage tabloid magazines.

at 15, she won tickets to the sotheby’s auction, but considered going to new york so outside the realm of possibility that she never thought to ask anyone to take her.

at 18, she wrote lee radziwill a fan letter.

at 21, because she really really wanted to write about the virgin suicides but couldn’t find anything valid to say, she wrote the 10th chapter of a non-existent jackie biography for her master’s thesis.

at 22, she was living with her parents, had $16 in her savings account and the job of “applebee’s waitress” headlining her resume. thoroughly demoralized, she began writing the rest of the non-existent jackie book.

when she did get a job, the girl went to work at 7 a.m. so she could get off at 4 and go home to write until 10. the day before her 24th birthday, which was also the day after her cat died, she finished.

her boyfriend, in detailing her various inadequacies during The Worst Break-Up To Have Ever Taken Place At A Rogue Wave Concert, leaned back in his chair and, taking a sip of PBR, said, and then there’s your strange obsession with jackie…

he compared her to the jimmy fallon character in fever pitch.

fyi: nothing will make an ambitious biographical girl feel less sexy than being compared to the jimmy fallon character in fever pitch

the girl moved to chicago.

she sent her book proposal to 50+ agents and publishing houses during the next four years, spending exorbitant amounts on postage because she needed the confidence that comes only with fedex.

the girl wrote an article about liz taylor. it was rejected 15 times. only when liz taylor died did it see the light of day.

in may 2004, the girl began emailing a certain biographer every six months to “check in.” six years later, the biographer wrote back.

biographically, there are always two stories: the true story and the story that’s told.

the true story is the ugly bare facts whereas the story that’s told is a sweeping over-arching tale built for public consumption. it often has a moral. it does not always have an end.

in the past three months, i’ve stumbled into an odd streak of luck that has left me with the nagging sensation that i deserve absolutely none of it. i’m realizing this isn’t so much a problem of self-esteem as one of narrative.

because i’d honestly rather believe my own propaganda about the post-it and the 9/20/13 plan than confront the fact that this is, in reality, something towards which i have been moving, however indirectly and unconsciously, for the last 18 years.

the story of how i put a date on a post-it is, in its cinematic brevity and seeming effortlessness, far more pretty than my sitting in a dive bar and being compared to the jimmy fallon character in fever pitch. but these two stories are inextricably linked.

i deserve none of this and yet i’ve earned it all.


(30 march 2011)

two things.

one: i have a rate. a rate ten bucks beyond what i expected and fifty dollars more than the astonishingly low amount i would have been willing to accept.

because i am an english major, i initially worked this out into a math problem of words ÷ words per page = # of pages ÷ estimated # of chapters ÷ hours per chapter x rate, which equated to roughly $16,800 for 50 hours of work. alas, um… no.

regardless, at this rate, i will be earning a mere 1/3rd less than what the highest earner in my area of expertise would earn. for a girl who got her start earning $13.95, being 33% shy of the maximum ain’t half bad.

and here’s the two: i have a contract.

an actual, legally binding document. yes, i’m operating on the assumption that signed word documents with the word “contract” in the file name are legally binding, but regardless, my time is now valuable enough to warrant a $100 cancellation fee.

dear actual biographical income, why, hello there!

jackie why?

(29 march 2011)

jackie and i’ve been together for 18 years. since the badly xeroxed women’s history handout in mrs. pavlick’s 6th grade english class.

18 years and i never once thought to ask “why jackie?” now, i can’t stop wondering.

because i have no answer. i’ve had 18 years, a book and two big projects to come up with one and i’ve got nothing.

well, that isn’t entirely true. i’ve staked 3/4s of everything i’ve ever written on the theory that she is the twentieth century’s archetypal female, a tabula rosa onto which, even after her death, we can still project our own experiences to find meaning.

but that’s the pretentious, academic answer. i was only twelve when i met her. back then, i would’ve mispronounced tabula rosa as tabitha rose and mistakenly believed the concept to be a transfer student of european descent.

if we examine the fact that what i remember most about that handout through which i met her is that it was badly xeroxed, we might conclude that i wasn’t so much captivated by jackie’s story as impressed by the poor quality of the page middle school duplicating equipment.

but there’s more to it. the other thing i remember about the women’s history handout packet is that jackie was clearly a last minute addition. the pages on florence nightingale, madame curie and sacajawea were all stapled together and bound in a folder. jackie was a separate sheet, as though she were tossed in at the last minute. as though there were a question of whether she really belonged.

in the pyramid of powerful women jackie stood out because the paper on which her story was printed was physically separate from the others, but she seemed set apart in time and space as well.

with their ruffled blouses and bunsen burners, these other women belonged on badly xeroxed handouts, but jackie’s feathered bouffant bespoke a modernity uncharacteristic of historical heroines. she was clearly a renegade.

the sketch of her that appeared on that handout was from a period that i would later know to identify as “the onassis years.” why jackie? because her earrings were enormous.

on being oline

(28 march 2011)

if i were asked to cite the one major side-effect of note in the process of becoming a biographer, i’d have to go with the identity crisis. because, man, is it ever acute.

bear in mind, i’m progressing at a snail’s paces towards a there that is, likely, not there. this is a process into which i’ve barely dipped a toe, and yet, at nearly every turn there seems to arise some monumental ethical question that demands the establishment of a particular truth that will set the tone for the type of biographer i am to be.

this has come up in matters large and small. but most importantly, it has arisen in the matter of my name.

i’ve been on a bit of a lucky streak. you wouldn’t know it because everything i’ve done has been done under different names. my portfolio reads hilariously schizophrenic.

on a saturday morning several weeks ago, during an unexpectedly long walk through blistering winds to an endpoint that was not located at the intersection of state and 47th, a friend grilled me on what i was doing with all these names. why, in my professional pursuits, was i faffing about as faith eaton and faith caroline eaton and f.c. eaton? why on earth wasn’t i just being oline?

i laughed and made excuses. but, when i thought about it later, what she was saying made an enormous lot of sense. because of flannery o’conner.

who could ever, upon hearing it, forget the name flannery o’conner? really, would she have been so well remembered if she’d stuck with mary?

i am trying to be a biographer for, like, for real, and while i actually quite like my name, as the tremendous anxiety it has prompted indicates, it is not working for my purposes here. i’ve been trying to write as faith caroline eaton and i simply cannot.

so i am going to be oline. officially. professionally.

as in, i emailed the people in london and asked them to change my name with enough conviction that they wrote back profusely apologizing that they had initially gotten it wrong.

there is no going back now. it would be unconscionable to make them to change it again.