my mother has now twice used the phrase “you go, girl.”
the first was way back in march 2010, when she heard i was having coffee with a philosopher, whom i mistakenly believed to be a lawyer. this was coming on the heels of a four-month period during which i’d spent most of my time reading twilight– so i can see how meeting a man for caffeine (regardless of the particulars of his employment) could be interpreted as such great progress that my mum would channel her inner spice girl and exclaim, you go, girl.
the second instance happened this past monday. we’re talking about a jackie idea i’ve been toying with, an idea that suddenly- out of nowhere- seems to have legs. she’s excited and i sense it’s coming. it seems only logical that, at some point, the torrent of “jackie is having a moment” is going to give way and yield yet another you go, girl.
but it’s still a surprise when she says it with such gusto, with such enthusiasm. and it’s still a surprise, the sensation i feel upon hearing her say it. the tiny thrill and very great sense of power that comes from the fact that my mother thinks i can do this and she has said, you go, girl.
(mm photo by john vachon)
one down, two to go.
on 20 september 2010, while riding home in a cab from midway, i decided i was going to be a biographer for real. i had a post-it and an endpoint and that is all.
this was like going to prom stag or studying at cornell for the summer. one of those adventures that is so exhilarating at the out-set but once you get into it, there’s a primal sensation of “holy shit!”
this past year has been very holy shit.
i don’t know what i thought would happen. all i know is that i expected none of what did, that i’ve no idea what’s next and that i wouldn’t have it any other way.
the first legit biographer to ever read jackie was a pulitzer prize winner with whom my only in-person interaction had been the observation that there should be more stalls in the women’s restroom at the national press club.
because, during a panel, she had expressed liberal views about what constitutes a biographical liberty, i shipped eight questionable pages of jackie off to her to see if, in her estimation, i had sinned.
it’s hard to summon momentum. to keep up your energy over the long haul. because this- writing, biography, life- is a mighty long haul. what you need is some galvanizing force that- even if it leads nowhere, even if it’s fleeting at best- gets you going. it gets words on the page.
the pulitzer prize winner wrote back. her email opened with this line: “well, i must say i enjoyed that…”
as though she hadn’t expected to. as though she were genuinely surprised.
i’m tempted to print out this email and frame it as a reminder. because this is the response i’m writing for, this is the response jackie should get.
you think you know her story. you don’t. i’m going to tell it, though i do not yet know how.
(photo by milton greene)
how long are you going to keep this up? my father asked.
i have made the mistake of informing him that- thanks to a combination of fun, work and biography- in an eight day stretch i’m going from l.a. to winnipeg and to nyc. all this during the season that i have trumpeted to the family as one in which i will be “taking some time off.”
i gave myself three years. we’re just past one. i’m having the time of my life! it’s a glorious wonderland of biographical dreams come true! a carnival of glitter and happy and cake staffed by jackie’s nearest relatives and dearest friends!
so, it’s almost totally irrelevant that, being the mistress of this carnival over the last year has aged me 800. at least.
and not in a helen mirren way. oh no, no. this is not a fine, full-bodied vintage, but a sour crustiness. the kind that typically comes from whole lifetimes of hardcore drug usage. we’re talking desperately aged. trashed. like keith richards.
i do wonder how long i can keep this up, but i don’t mention that to my dad. instead, i remain incandescently positive and say, i’m almost there! there’s just l.a. and winnipeg and new york and then maybe prague and paris and london and…
this is where he interrupts me. i know, i know. go, have your adventure. you’ll sleep when you’re dead.
(mm photo by jock carroll)