that’s the title of rose kennedy’s 1974 memoir.
at this point my biggest memory of times to remember is of the time i spent in the research room at the jfk library powering through the cassette tapes of rose kennedy’s recorded interviews with someone whose name i cannot remember.
someone who may or may not have been her ghost writer?
someone who definitely did not know to pause their question asking when planes flew overhead.
i learned that day that, wherever she was (hyannis, i assume, but also maybe an airbase???), there was a wild amount of air traffic. i also learned that day that, as an interviewer, you should always, always pause your question asking when planes fly overhead.
for if you do not, future people with cursed ears will curse your name. true facts.
i recently bought a mass market edition of this memoir. because i’ve not read it in ages and because i love me a mass market paperback.
(a goal i am manifesting: to one day be read in mass market paperback form.)
the thing i love about this cover is that the designer was so clearly like, ok, rose, i’mma let you triumph in your lilac eye shadow…
AND ALSO like FUCK THOSE KENNEDY MEN.
bless him, bobby left his sunglasses at home.
this just blatant disrespect of jfk evident in that mitch mcconnell neck. yo, I AM HERE FOR THAT.
for the record, i am immune to his charms. cannot tell you why she married him. other than the fact that we are so many of us so often attracted to people who are not available to us, people who are not capable of loving us as we deserve.
(you’re not going to believe me, but this is going to be a post about watergate. at least i think it is. i don’t even know how we’re going to get there, but i think we are. wait for it…….)
i’ve entitled this post “times to remember” and i do not actually know when i went to what is called the jfk birthplace, but which would more appropriately be entitled ROSE KENNEDY’S HOME.
it would make sense for it to have been when i was doing my phd but actually i think it was before that, when i was going out to newport somewhat regularly (by which i’m pretty sure i just mean twice) to talk to jackie’s brother.
what i remember is that:
(1) i told them i was writing about jackie and it was WILDLY awkward how the docent kept turning to me during the tour and asking for my insight into family dynamics. i’d only just barely, timidly begun identifying as a writer. i’d never said i was an expert.
(2) i was struck by the presence of rose, the dominance of rose. as i just said: seriously, truly, for real– it should be called THE ROSE KENNEDY HOUSE, because she was our guide. the tour was about her life there. literally, her voice guided us through. mayhaps it’s of interest because jfk was born there, but it was interesting to me because it was a space dominated by a woman. rose got to have her say.
how much more interesting might history look if women got to have their say?
(which is by no means a promise that they wouldn’t very often say deeply shitty things, fyi.)
how much more might we know about what actually happened if women were free to speak?
i’m currently actively not writing an article i’m supposed to be writing, which will- if i ever write it- include jackie’s comment that “american history is for men.”
this was said somewhere in 1960, so i don’t think she was being wildly radical or even meant the thing i get from that quote when i read it.
her 1960 self may well have meant it as a compliment. i come to it as a condemnation.
i grew up in a religious tradition in which women could not preach. women could speak onstage only in an interview format, only if they were accompanied by a male interviewer.
this sounds like the 19th century. it was the 90s. it was 2008.
more and more, i think this is at least part of why i became a writer. part of why i wrote about history.
because i wanted my own life to matter. i wanted to be positioned within some sort of history.
i wanted to speak. and i spent a tremendous amount of time in spaces where that was not allowed, it was wrong, it was discouraged.
i was too loud at school and too doubtful at church. i was all wrong.
many years ago, during a pizza and dr. quinn marathon, i told a friend that i used biography medicinally. used the stability of lived lives in order to create my own.
because i did nothing correct by the standards of the religion i grew up in. i did not marry. i did not have kids. i did not pray hard enough nor often enough. i was never enough. i was always anxious.
but there was in biography a certainty unavailable in lived experience.
as a young person, this was comforting. as an adult, it is my biggest critique of the genre.
it is, ultimately, i believe, the genre’s greatest failure.
because none of us live our lives knowing anything for certain. to portray the events of a life as inevitable is to impose upon the life a structure that was not available to the person living it.
this seems to me a cruelty, an unfairness. in big part maybe also because it means the effects and disruptions of trauma are erased.
the story i want is the one that is unsettled. the story that lacks a conclusion. the story full of anxiety and fear and uncertainty and hope and beauty and questions.
for that is life, and that is the space within life that art can occupy.
you may not believe it, but this really is going to be about how friday was the 50th anniversary of watergate. maybe…
how october is the 55th anniversary of jackie’s marriage to onassis.
how november is the 60th anniversary of jfk’s murder.
the striking things about the times we remember is that so many of them are so traumatic.
when i was 13, i wrote an obituary of rose kennedy.
what i remember about watching rose kennedy’s funeral on c-span is the discovery of the hymn “all creatures of our god and king,” which i instantly loved.
because it wasn’t a praise chorus and it wasn’t a hymn we ever sang in the evangelical churches i was in.
it was the alleluias. they had me at the alleluias.
they had me hardcore. to this day, i am not free.
so here’s the thing about my book. the thing i am anticipating…
it feels very 2022.
it was finished in december 2015, i swear to god. it has not changed fundamentally since then at all. but it is nonetheless eerily 2022.
everyone, i suspect, will be like “how did writing during the trump presidency help you do this book?” and i will be like IT HAPPENED BEFORE. I SAW ALL OF THIS BEFORE!!!!!!! and no one will believe me.
i do not live my life expecting to believed.
this is the legacy of abuse and trauma and all of the fun times therein. always i am ready for a fight, always i am on the defense.
i said this when i wrote about challenger (maybe in the part 2 i’ve not yet published), but it still stands. god bless all the people who got through this shit without frameworks. god bless all ya’ll who weathered your grief and your PTSD before there was a diagnosis.
i couldn’t have.
i could not have.
this really is about watergate, in some sort of way…
we do not know where we’re going, in life. we do not know what will happen next.
this is the most obvious thing in the world and yet i have said it in at least twenty different ways on this blog in the last five years. because it is true. and because, whilst it is an integral fact of the experience of being alive, it is also a fact we’re often wont to gloss.
i’m an almost ridiculously sparkly person, and i am very often numb, my expressions of feeling siphon through words and objects and my emotionally incontinent face. but still, I REFUSE TO GLOSS.
i want to capture it all, even the anxiety and the uncertainty, the not knowing we all of us live with, always.
the uncertainty into which, with great valor, we constantly fling our selves and our hearts, filled with whatever hope we can muster.
what i remember of richard nixon’s funeral is how embarrassed all the other presidents looked. to even be there.
it was clearly an event undertaken under some historical duress.
i’ve said it before and i’m only moderately ashamed to say it again.
i’m not proud of it. and maybe it comes from my decades of watching the brady bunch, in which there are an absurd number of references to benedict arnold.
as a 13-year-old, writing in the summer of 1994 after the deaths of nixon and jackie, i wrote in my journal that i couldn’t image anything worse than being remembered as a traitor. and that i’d “always had sympathy for benedict arnold in that respect.”
honestly, i do not know what even the fuck that means.
i don’t think rose kennedy was a particularly… i’m not sure what the word is.
maybe she was in a tight spot. maybe she didn’t have a lot of love in her life. maybe she didn’t really want to have all those kids.
maybe she would’ve preferred a husband who was faithful to her.
maybe her expectations of what she deserved were pretty low.
most probably she could’ve been a politician herself had she been born 20 years later, in a different culture, a different america, a different world.
i do not know.
i’m not so much interested in the fact that she had all those kids. actually, her kids interest me not at all. what interests me most, what’s popped out at me more and more as i work through the process of correcting my citations for the book and repeatedly encounter references for her diaries and notes and tapes, is that she traveled. she was a woman, and yet she saw the world.
that’s what drew me to jackie as well, but jackie died at 64. rose lived to 104, which makes her something of a special case.
at the age of 83, when women are usually written off and done for, she went to see her daughter-in-law in athens, she went to ethiopia, she went all sorts of places.
this is what i look for in stories of women, even rich, privileged, white women– the ways in which they broke the mold, the ways in which they rebelled, however small, the ways in which they pried open possibilities, hopes, ways of being free. ways made especially provocative by their gender, by how easy it would’ve been to just not go.
and not free in the sense of just being obedient to god, but free in the sense of living wide open to experience and pleasure and enjoying the one life you’ve got.
we tell stories in order to live. we tell stories in order to learn how to live. we tell stories because stories, even the seemingly conventional, extremely privileged ones, can still chart a map, open a door, and tilt the world.
i’m being grandiose and maybe entirely too generous towards the people who’ve appeared here, but the ultimate point is this: i want a world where american history is no longer for men.
ps. when i was living in the UK, whenever i came back to the US, i was stunned by how many flags there were. by the casualness, the banalness of the nationalism. i don’t know what work the flags are doing here, but there you go.
pps. oh yeah. they were there all along…