yusha, part 3

(part 1 and part 2)

as the stepbrother emerges from the elevator, the sunlight streams through the glass door and beams golden off his white hair.

we do not hug or shake hands. instead, we embark upon a somewhat frantic tour of the house. i feel less like a biographer and more like a buyer, come to bid not only on the home but all the contents within.

the stepbrother’s name yields the shallowest of googles. i know very little about him and didn’t realize he had a wife and children until i’m standing in the castle’s breakfast nook staring at their portraits adorning the walls.

as with most everything i do these days, i’m not entirely certain why i’m here. we’ve two hours to talk and i come bearing a mere question and a half.

and yet, within ten minutes of small talk over framed photographs and family memorabilia, an amazingly random, potentially awesome story begins to emerge. i don’t know what to do with it but, before the stepbrother has even uttered a word about jackie, i assume i’ll be coming back.

but we’re here to talk about jackie for now.

the stepbrother sits in a high-backed chair. he gestures at the various available seating options and declares the couch “difficult.” ever one to choose the path of most resistance, i sit there.

the word “difficult” is generous. the couch is a full foot shorter than a sofa made for modern man and whatever cotton once comprised it has now decayed to the consistency of a gel.

sitting down is like free-falling onto a water-bed. my feet leave the floor and for a glimmer of a moment there’s a very real fear i’ll go bobbing over the sofa’s back. this is not good.

quickly, i gather my wits. using the momentum remaining from my initial fall into the sofa and the force of the subsequent gelatinous waves, i lurch forward so that i’m teetering on the edge of the beastly thing, my feet en pointe.

despite the awkward posture (and a belated awareness of the visibility of my bra), throughout the interview, i’ve a very great sense of how incredibly cool i am being.

for instance, when the stepbrother says, well, of course, you know jackie’s mother died in this room, i nod and smile as though that were, in fact, something i had known.

when he mentions that patrick kennedy’s wedding is scheduled for the middle of the month, i nod and smile, as my last hope of ever marrying into the kennedy family vanishes in the room where jackie’s mother breathed her last.

if the process of writing biography has taught me anything, it has taught me the very great importance of appearing cool. because the biographer has to confront his or her own inadequacies and ridiculousness on a near-daily basis and yet keep fumbling forward, moving against a very keen sense of his or her own ineptitude.

i am doing this. i am trying to be cool. usually i’m just inept and the uncoolest uncool one could ever be, but i’m trying.

i’ve not listened to the tape of this interview beyond checking to ensure that it did record, so when people have asked for details, all i’ve been able to give are the very few soundbites that were able to break through the mental curtain of OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD.

and, as i sat in the castle that day, not much made it beyond that curtain. just a few little bits…

i have sat in the room where janet auchincloss died.

i’ll likely never marry a kennedy.

during WWII, with flirty sailors at the nearby naval base, jackie traded chickens for steaks.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=104087

yusha, part 2

i’m idling by a padlocked gate with a menacing sign labeled “farm entrance” as the GPS exultantly proclaims YOU HAVE ARRIVED.

i have not.

a llama lazing in the pasture, briefly roused by the sound of tires spinning in gravel, looks up, nods curtly and resumes his nap.

i’m due to meet the stepbrother in five minutes. the fact that i can’t even hold the attention of a farm animal does not bode well.

there is very much the sense that i have stumbled into the big leagues and that i do not belong. i’m so, so minor. double A, at best.

i don’t like talking to people, much less strangers- it’s so much easier to read a book- but here i am, forking over my southwest miles, driving a rental and squatting at a travelodge off RI-4, all so i can talk to a stranger for an hour and a half.

my dad says most people feel this way most of the time. that it’s just a matter of pretending you can do something and then you will. ACTING! he exclaims, brandishing an imaginary sword.

(this has been the driving philosophy behind nearly everything outstanding anyone in my family has ever done, thus draining all our accomplishments of their intellectualism and rendering them mere feats of vaudeville.)

i’m idling by the farm entrance when i remember this. ACTING! i actually say it aloud and mentally brandish my imaginary sword. and, with a straightening of the shoulders and a tossing of the hair, i call up the stepbrother and wail that i’ve no idea where i am.

this is how i learn i am literally not 3 feet from where i’m supposed to be.

all of this- asking for the interview, getting it, setting it up, confirming- has felt like the run-up to a first date. and not even a grown-up date but a high school date, where you make elaborate weeks-long preparations to ensure the availability and cleanliness of your parent’s minivan.

i’m in an impala, which seems close enough. i’ve also painted my nails, put on a cardigan and peed no less than fifteen times before leaving home. this is classic high school date prep.

but this isn’t a date. it’s an interview with the stepbrother, who is an 85-year-old man.

upon having found the right driveway, i pull up to the castle and park in back. disembarking, my leg and sandal get tangled in the strap of my purse and i trip at such an angle that, observing me from above, you would’ve assumed i was humping the impala.

i know the stepbrother was on the second floor. i pray to god he didn’t see.

the front door is glass. i ring the bell and stand with my arms bent at a bridesmaidly angle as though clutching an invisible bouquet for dear life.

a gentle whir rolls through the air as the elevator moves into action and, from the heavens, the stepbrother descends…

yusha

(6 june 2011)

i’m sitting in a concrete garden between two skyscrapers when i listen to the message from the stepbrother—my hand held to my heart in shock as a voice that, thanks to two decades of jackie o documentaries, i would have recognized anywhere, comes out of my very own phone.

it is a 3 ½ minute display of old world graciousness that was, due to a bad connection, punctuated by loud bursts that i would have interpreted as gunfire had i not known he was calling from a castle in rhode island.

this was last august. way before the whole 9/20/13 plan.

we talked three more times and then i dumped him. i didn’t call, didn’t write, didn’t do anything. because i didn’t know what to do with him. i didn’t know where he fit in the story i was trying to tell.

that hasn’t changed. i’ve still no idea. but i’ve given myself a year. i’m throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.

in that spirit, i’m meeting the stepbrother in newport this weekend.

there won’t even be an attempt to play it cool here so just know: everything about that sentence is scary. that is why i have put this off for so very very long.

calling the step-brother on the phone is an ordeal so awful that i dally for whole weeks at a time before ringing him back.

our phone calls, thus far, have been epically bad. like, horrendously, hilarifyingly bad. in the made-for-tv movie treatment of Jackie: The True Story Of The (un)Making of A Book That Never Was, the scenes comprised of these phone calls are going to earn jennifer love hewitt her biggest laughs.

i speak too softly and too fast. the step-brother appears to be calling me on a walkie-talkie from the middle of an airfield that has come under enemy fire. we speak to one another as victorians not yet familiar with the cutting-edge technology of the telephone.

there’s obviously enormous room for improvement here so i’m holding out hope that it’ll be me and jackie’s stepbrother kicking it at the castle and that we’re going to be, like, totally steller communicators when we meet face-to-face.

minimal hope, mind you. but hope nonetheless.

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.

choose your own adventure

[via]

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?

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.

incidentals

(11 march 2011)

i always, without fail, forget toothpaste. the brush i bring, but not the paste. always. never mind how much i travel, in the socialist society that only exists in my mind, toothpaste is a government-provided given along with healthcare and toilet paper and milk and cake.

i’m of the firm opinion that dental hygiene is not a detail towards which i should have to put forethought. the tools should simply be there.

i am alone in new york and i have no toothpaste. wearing a polka-dot dress and red lipstick, i go to the front desk and ask for a map and toothpaste.

read: i’m a totally cute lost girl with bad breath.

this is not my ideal biographical persona.

there is no toothpaste at the front desk. it is already five minutes past my ideal departure time. it’s one of those mornings where nothing will be idyllic.

ten minutes past my ideal departure time, toothpaste is procured.

ten minutes into my conversation with stacy schiff, when i lean forward to write my email address under the jfk quote she says she will email to me, i flashback to that moment nine minutes past my ideal departure time- the moment just before the kindly woman knocked on my door- where i wondered if i could brave a biographical conference without brushing my teeth and i thank my lucky stars i put my faith in the housekeeping staff of the times square best western and waited that extra minute.

because there’s a slim chance stacy schiff may remember me. it’s early days yet, but i’m quite certain i’d rather be the girl in the polka dot dress who loved the vera nabokov book than the one with the weird email address who didn’t brush her teeth.

4:26, last friday afternoon

(1 march 2011)

identifying a biographical subject is like falling in love.

not the easy head over heels at first sight business that always happened at sweet valley high. it’s more like when you’ve been around and you’re damaged and you’re very much not at your best and you know that and you meet someone and you run and you hide and you play coy and be awkward- but at the same time, you can tell. on some level, you just know- you’re going to let them have you in the end. you don’t know what that’ll look like and you don’t know what it means and you’re pretty sure it’ll make you question everything you’ve ever known but, nonetheless, you know they’re gonna get you.

that was jackie. there has only ever been jackie. there was never another.

i didn’t always want her, i wasn’t always ready for her, but she was always there.

a few weeks ago, a friend leaned against the brick wall outside debonair, took a drag on my cigar, looked me in the eye and asked, are you ever going to write about anyone else?

i said i honestly did not know. because i honestly do not know.

jackie’s is the story that’s going to dominate my biographical life. it’s probably safe to assume that, but i’ve always left room for others. there’d just never been any.

it’s funny. the longer you live, the more sensitive you become to small events, little twists. things that never play out exactly as they did before, but they’re similar enough that you recognize the emotions, the tug of the heart, and you can guess what that pull means. you know enough to go ahead and attribute to it an importance it may or may not ultimately assume, and to make it a part of the story now, even if it falls by the wayside later on.

it had always been jackie. there was never anyone else.

at 4:26 on last friday afternoon, i found her. she is not jackie. she is a total stranger and yet i knew. i just knew, with the total conviction and deep satisfaction of one clicking a last puzzle piece in place.

i wish there were more words for it. i wish there were any words for it. i wish i could explain the inexplicable clinch of the heart that happened then because then everyone would understand once and for all why anyone would ever be compelled to do what it is that i want to do.

all i can say is that it was 4:26, and it was love at first sight.

a reaction of such visceral strength that it seemed important to document the time. as though we would one day divide the epochs based on this, with a clearcut delineation of the before and after.

i greet my father in the train station, flushed from excitement and waving a sheaf of printed obituaries above my head like a flag of surrender. i am wild. he is cautious.

i call my mother and say, i felt it. mummy, i felt it, and she gets it instantly without my saying anything else. she knows this is big. she knows that when i cannot find the words, we’re in for something monumental.

i’m reluctant to write about any of this, because, odds are, nothing will come of it. odds are that it’ll be like that epic civil war novel that never was that i set out to write the summer i turned ten.

it may very well just be proof that i’m not confined to jackie after all. that i’ve been dreaming in a tiny box when, in reality, this is a magic without limits.

but i’ve been recording a process here. the process of writing a book about jackie in paris and the million unexpected directions that leads. i’ve been banking on the notion that even if there is, in fact, no there there, the story of getting to the there that didn’t exist will be just as interesting. i don’t know yet if that’s going to hold true.

what i do know is that this story of that moment, of 4:26 on last friday afternoon, cannot be left out. because i felt it. i felt IT. i cannot find the words, but it’s big. and, come what may, we are in for something monumental.