t-minus 857

(17 may 11)

writers pretend it’s easy. it isn’t.

i’ve set a deadline. we’re already 239 days in. which is shocking. and horrifying. and scary. because i so vividly remember that moment, the back of that cab, that night of 20.09.10 when 20.09.13 seemed so very very reasonably far away. it does not seem so reasonable now.

but slowly, slowly i am getting better at this. not good, just better.

for instance, i now know that the week before there’s a big biographical step to be taken, i’ll be stricken with an abject terror toward forward motion of any kind.

for eight days, everything will be impossible. i will never write enough. my words will never be worth enough. i’ll never finish jackie book, much less publish it. i’ll never be a biographer, much less make a living off it. i will be an embarrassing failure and everyone will know (a) the ostentatiousness of my dreams and (b) my spectacular inability to achieve them.

the only thing of which i am absolutely certain during these eight days, the only possibility that rings in any way true, is that i really will, for all my jokes about it, one day wind up in a ditch- abandoned, incontinent and riddled with mouth cancer.

which is a totally awesome thing about which to be entirely certain.

i’m becoming a biographer, which is what i’ve been inching towards for the last 20 years. i’m becoming a biographer via freelance editing and the writing of totally unbiographical things, but i’m becoming a biographer nonetheless. which is great and all, yes, but i’m not so far in that i can’t turn back. i’m not in so deep that there’s not a temptation to up and quit it all.

i won’t. because you’re all watching.

and because i have business cards. and i need to go to paris. and i sat behind stacy schiff. and for right now, that has to be enough, those little hints that form a piece of the extremely backward path i am taking to get to where i want to wind up. these glints of possibility in the midst of a black pit of impossibles, they leave the door open just the tiniest bit. and jackie and i, we’re skinny. we can squeeze in.

writers make it look easy. it isn’t. i’ve given myself a mere 857 days when it’s a hell of hard thing that i want to do. which- given that i stand miles from where i’m headed and am fueled by a fear of incontinence and mouth cancer- would seem hilarifyingly inadequate, so prepare yourself for the ballsy, stupid, arrogant, unladylike thing i am about to say…

i have 857 days. and i know it in my bones. it will not take that long.

it’s jackie dead day

(19 may 2011)

this likely matters to no one but me and caroline kennedy. but, i swear, people, it’s important. i wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for this.

on two separate occasions last friday, i was confronted with the question: so what’s happening with jackie?

on my lunch break, my mother asked it over the phone, as i slipped my bare feet into the frigid waters of the small stream that runs through the little garden that’s sprung up by the art institute.

i counted the change accumulated at the bottom and wondered how big a wish one gets for 16 cents.

and then there it was again, when k.lo leaned over the table at katie i’s peruvian birthday dinner and asked the exact same thing. i was halfway through a virgin daiquiri, which- it was increasingly clear- was, in fact, not a virgin.

what is happening with jackie?

it’s a question for which i have no answer, but i’ve got ideas. huge, incredibly expensive, wildly implausible, recklessly bold, impossible to execute ideas.

but if the jackie i love- the jackie of the 70s, the jackie whom history has erased and who went braless and saw sex movies and married a greek- has taught me anything, it is that life is an adventure. that we must always be present. that anything is possible. and anything can be.

the mental health day

i took a mental health day yesterday. chicago and i’ve had a rough spell what with winter and the rain and a mental health day seemed a logical response to a three-day period in which i flew a plane, rode a motorcycle, frolicked among dandelions, went to detroit, killed a goose and spent 6 hours squinting into a sea of hawaiian print.

best. life. choice. ever.

and so i stayed home. and the funny thing is, i didn’t realize what i was doing until the day was nearly done. and then i thought about it and i realized what i’d done was unknowingly genius.

because i’m working toward something here and it’s going to be awesome. but in the meantime, it’s going to be really, really exhausting. i know that. i don’t like it, but i know. and i’m ready now.

here’s where the mental health day comes in.

because my mental health day went like this… i woke up at 8 and read until 10. i went for a walk. i wrote The Column. i made a wrap that was a staggeringly close approximation of the Wrap of My Life (more on that later). i finally, finally revised the blasted religious beast and submitted it to the naked lady bar. and i edited 20 pages from one to five. in short, i lived like a writer.

what i just described there, what i did not realize even as i was doing it, is that this is my absolute perfect work day. this is what i’m working toward. it’s an ideal and it may not happen just like that, but it’s nice to know it’s there. it’s good to have a reminder. it’s good to have the memory of that moment of ah, yes.  it is going to be worth it.  

book ’em

(27 april 2011)

i’m sitting in riverside center room 12 listening to this guy wax on about how the male youths of the 60s were pivotally influenced by the depictions of manhood in john wayne’s the sands of iwo jima when i realize that i am maybe writing two books. three if you count that other book that i’ve not really written but about the writing of which i’m writing in that additional book.

so, four.

four books.

i am writing four books.

but what i’m really doing is not writing any of them.

one of the four is done. except that it isn’t because i’m pretty sure now that it may need to become two. if not, it sure as hell needs to become a better one because it’s maybe a half at present. and a crap half at that.

so what we have is this:

jackie: the definitive biography
jackie: the tabloid years
jackie in paris: the biography
jackie in paris: the novel of the failed attempt to write the biography

none of them written. none of them being written.

there’s this phase of writing we don’t talk about much. the phase where you’re writing nothing.

this tends to look like laziness. i would argue it isn’t. but then, maybe i’d think that precisely because it’s the stage i’m in. it’s easier to justify the notion that i’m mentally arranging pieces and plotting course than to admit i’m stewing in a pit of ideas from which i cannot crawl out.

in high school, due to my great fear of tardiness and inability to master a combination lock, i never used my locker but, instead, lugged 30 pounds of textbooks around every day.

that is how writing sometimes feels. all those books and projects and pieces crammed into your skull. you carry them around with you, because it’s a frightening process to get them out and because you do not yet have the key.

writing is a dark hallway down which we blindly strut.

(6 may 2011)

i’ve been writing this thing. it’s nothing to do with anything i should be writing and it’s all i’ve been writing for months.

four sentences are all that’s left of the bleeding carcass i first threw on the table at the naked lady bar back in january. the carcass that, through herculean effort, the dane and sensei cleaned and dressed and reassembled, so’s it’s tricked out like a semi-precious gem.

there’s a story now. plain. and simple. and possibly unpublishable.

i started with the last three lines, which meant i spent five months getting back to the beginning. ultimately, all it took was people on a balcony and a woman with burgundy lipstick staining her teeth, and i thought, YES. i’ve done it! because i’d managed to bring up burgundy lipstick twice in ten pages, i thought i’d finally earned my end.

in the naked lady bar, i asked sensei if the balcony and the burgundy lipstick were working. he said, yeah, yeah, but this thing you’ve done right here, right after it. THAT? THAT gave me chills.

we writers write for two very particular instances, both of which carry an emotional power that is the literary addictive equivalent of crack. that fleeting moment where we can read something we’ve written as something written by someone else. and, even more so, the moments where, in writing, we do things of which we are not actually capable; things that, though we have done them, we do not even see.

the thing that gave sensei chills? what i’d done right there? i didn’t even know.

i’ve written a story. she’s put together and polished. she shines like a diamond, but she’s a bullet in the end.

well said

(25 april 2011)

public speaking, much like tennis and figure skating, is something at which i excel in my head. in real life, not so much.

there is nothing i deplore in all the world so much as addressing groups larger than three, because i do not like to confront my inadequacies. i do not like to be reminded that there are a host of things at which i am not simply thoroughly bad, but downright deficient. and there are few things at which i am more deficient than articulate public speech.

in recounting our experience in an ill-fated speech class, in which we merely had to state our names and why we were there, the dane told sensei: as it became increasingly clear that we were going to have to introduce ourselves, i looked over at oline. her head was bowed and at first i thought she was praying, but then i realized she was just trying to disappear.

it’s funny then that i’ve stumbled into this whole sex toboggan speaking tour, an ordeal for which disappearance is not an option.

my mechanism for psychologically coping with the looming horror of this inevitability was to completely ignore the paper i was going to deliver this past weekend, to forgo all practice of any sort and simply scare myself by all other available means. hence the flight lesson, the blood donation, the driver’s test, the beef tongue. as though systematically hurtling through the catalog of my fears would render the nightmare of public speaking utterly powerless in the end.

if nothing else, i would be so shell-shocked as to be insentient and the horror of opening my mouth would be somewhat dulled.

i did all of this only to find out that what i require to be psychologically capable of public speaking is really quite simple: fuchsia clip-on bangs and thirty minutes reading eichmann in jerusalem while listening to lady gaga’s “bad romance.”

a little less conversation, a little more action, please.

(15 april 2011)

i’m not an ambitious person. i like goals, yes, because they’re how i get anything done, but i’m also totally content dallying about, all dreamy and pie in the sky.

so it’s odd that for the first time in a long time- probably since i sat friendless in memphis and, with eerily laser like focus, cranked out jackiebook- there’s an end point towards which i’m working. whether it comes true is irrelevant. what matters is that it’s there. it’s an adventure. and i always like that.

but here’s the thing: as i push further into the myriad random avenues that are apparently a part of becoming a biographer, everything seems to be folding into everything else so that my whole life is now one long, unending conversation on the topical triumvirate of jackie o, apostasy and biographical appendices.

and that’s weird.

i am der ring des nibelungen! not in content or brilliance, obviously, but in interminability, yes.

after new york, i realized i have this crazy conversation and a whole world of work but i don’t have much that’s pure, selfish fun and not in some way wrapped up with these other things. which is a problem because, after 9 pages of biographical editing that was the mental equivalent of a three-day hand cramp and four months spent mired in the philosophical writings of catholic heretics, purely selfish fun would be pretty much divine right about now.

this is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs. accordingly, i went about rectifying it as quickly as could be through the most logical, mature available means: a slumber party. because that’s such an obvious cure.