my life with jackie, redux; or, on melancholy

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it is like a nesting doll, all of it. my life with jackie, my writing about jackie. so that when i read the pages i have written about jackie, the whole book i have written on her life, it unpacks a whole series of memories of my own.

where i was when i wrote that sentence.

who i was sitting next to at the british library when i found that quote. (invariably, always, obviously, nanette.)

what i didn’t know was about to happen when i was in that archive.

the feeling of the wind in my hair and the blue blue sky above as i walked home after wandering round the yacht.

it is her life and it is mine.

they are, by this point, so braided up.

*

jo 6

after reading the full draft of my book for the first time in two years, i complain to a friend that i was so briefly content before being consumed by exhaustion. as though the door to every single thing that has happened in the last five years that i would really rather not think about had been flung open and they all pressed against me, demanding attention, the whole lot of them requiring a working through, the energy for which i do not have.

omg, she sagely tells me, it’s like you just looked at a decade of old facebook photos. like you just watched everyone age in a blur. of course you would now need time to mourn.

*

05-22-94

i think about how young i was when all of this started.

twelve.

TWELVE.

i vividly remember the shame associated with it.

of caring that much.

never mind that, when i made my announcement to my parents and their friend who was visiting from out of town, during a dinner at the taco bell, that i had decided to collect vintage jackie LIFE magazines, they were all 100% on board.

(in my memory, if i’m being entirely honest, they clapped. but that sounds a bit much, even for my family’s ambient level of ostentatiously excessive enthusiasm so, even though i remember it clearly, i imagine this is probably not true.)

it was nonetheless embarrassing, to care that much.

it has always, always been embarrassing to care this much.

*

vivid memory: somewhere around ’95-’96, my father picked up me and a friend with whom i rode the school bus from the dollar theater where we’d seen some charlie sheen film. when we were driving her home, she sat in the front seat and i was in the back. they were talking about something and garebear, bragging on me, mentioned how i had this cool magazine collection, AND I DIED.

i don’t think i actually told my dad to shut up but i shut that shit down real fast.

because it was 1995/1996. we were teenagers.

it was not cool to care.

i’m aware now of how i have always worked to inhibit and conceal how much i care. and how it has always, always felt mildly violent to have to do that. 

oline reading 3

*

i wrote all of the above in july 2019, but it’s held up. 

*

i write about real lives, because i think real lives hit different. 

maybe this is just because, my whole life, they’ve hit different for me.

it’s been maybe ten or fifteen years since i first characterized my relationship with biography as one of self-medicating. it is no accident that my academic research is all about how people use stories of real lives to navigate their own. 

i write about this because i have done this. and i want to understand why. 

i was twelve and i read about her and saw something i needed and i took it. 

she was a way of being, but also a way out. of whatever it was i was in– girlhood, depression, grief, violence, america.

jo on camel

*

i’ve dreamed about her very few times. i wrote about the original one awhile back

i don’t think i’ve written about the last one.

in the dream, the man i was romantically entangled with at the time and i were leaving an evangelical church. (god knows what we were doing there.) we were walking through what i assumed to be new york city and, suddenly, at the end of the street, bracketed between two buildings, there she was. 

wearing these red pants.

ScreenShot2018-03-20at11.40.24AM

dear reader, i take absolutely no pride in the fact that my first thought upon seeing jackie onassis in this dream was that her butt was bigger than i had imagined.

and somehow we (or i- i should say- because from this point on i was no longer aware of the man i was romantically entangled with; i had an awareness only of her), though we were walking down a parallel street, wound up in her path, and she came striding up to me.

not aggressively, not all HOW DARE YOU WRITE THAT BOOK, but just in the manner that you would approach someone on the street, someone you knew and had been expecting.

she was in her 50s. a cigarette was in her hand. her lipstick was hot pink.

she was getting into politics, she told me. and desperate to read consuela’s memoir. 

i told her i was nobody and i couldn’t get it for her. 

because this was a reference, i recognized within this dream, to suzanne sugarbaker’s maid on the 80s tv classic designing women. who has apparently written a memoir that jackie onassis desperately needs to read. 

*
i was twelve when i met her. 
 
who even are you when you’re twelve? 
 
(and i’d like to take a moment here to fully acknowledge and embrace the reality that i cannot work out the formatting in the monstrous new mode of wordpress.com so we’re just rolling with the changing fonts and rando lines.)
 
WHO ARE YOU WHEN YOU ARE TWELVE, i ask? 
 
this was me: 
07171991
alarmingly, this is maybe probably a lot of me still. 
 
 
i also wrote, at that time, about how i was “terrorized” by the fact that my decisions then could affect my whole life. 
 
o young oline, little did you know. 
 
the thing is we never know. and i think this is the thing that biography so often gets so wrong. because biographers have access to the story in ways their subjects never did. and we write with the privileges of that access. we write with an awareness of how the story will end. 
 
they did not know that. and every decision they ever made was informed by the lack of that knowledge. 
 
just as every decision we make in our own lives is informed by our total ignorance of how things are actually going to pan out in the end. 
 
we do not know. nobody does. that we keep going is truly extraordinary when you think about it. 
 
*
at a dinner party at some point, stephen spender asked what she considered her greatest accomplishment. 
 
she said it was that, after going through some difficult things, she’d remained relatively sane. 
jk24
 
*
 
there’s an anecdote in carl anthony’s wonderful book about how she and vivian crespi were sitting on a beach one day in the 70s, drinking rosé, and she turned to crespi and said, do you realize how lucky we are? to have gotten out of that narrow world… to have taken such a big bite out of life. 
 
she was a way out. she has always, for me, been a way out. something which, while it remains mysterious and bizarre, for which i am nonetheless tremendously grateful. 
 
jo-9
 
 
 
 
 

One thought on “my life with jackie, redux; or, on melancholy

  1. Thank you for your blog. I am 63 and grew up while Mrs. Onassis was alive. She has alway been an inspiration. I am glad she has been relevant to other generations. Margaret Carrigan

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