biographers love to talk about process

in 8 days, i leave for paris. in 14 days, i will be delivering a paper, the title of which contains the following words (presented here in no order): “adventure”, “stardom”, “tabloid”, “feminism”, “narrative”, journey”, “the NEW woman”, “via”, “jackie onassis”.

i know, i know. you’re buying your tickets to paris pronto. you’re there with bells. because this adventure stardom tabloid feminism narrative journey NEW woman train is obviously something you do not want to miss. you want to ride that, am i right?

man, i will give it to you. because, for all the years i’ve been speaking about sex toboggans, for the first time i have legitimately steered mine down a perilous run. paper-wise.

8 days until paris. 14 days until presentation. and let’s be honest, the thing needs to be done before paris, because it certainly isn’t going to get written there.

8 days.

writers (in general) and biographers (in particular) love to talk process, so hey- let’s chat. let’s talk about how process can go wicked wrong.

i have a habit of migrating files. when my disgust with one version has reached an unbearable degree, i’ll pull pieces into another file and reassemble it there. this isn’t anything special. it’s just how i work.

here’s the problem. i’m incredibly not clever. and so i’ll have a file titled CONSUMPTION, get fed up with it, pull the paragraphs and put them in a different order in a file titled CONSUMPTION MONEY, get fed up with that, pull the paragraphs and reorder them in a file titled CONSUMPTION MONEY REGIMES. simple enough, yeah, but then i’ll proceed to bounce between all three, like an acrobat swinging along the scaffolding.

(fyi- this is how my master’s thesis wound up in a file entitled JACKIE TABLOIDS NO BAD REVAMP REVAMP SUCKS REVAMP REVAMPED.)

this is a system that has worked well up to now, largely because i was working on one computer. three or four or five documents can be managed with a degree of alacrity so long as they’re confined to a single venue. things we now know: add another computer into the mix and the system falls apart.

i’m writing this jackie paper. i’m doing a not great job of it (my mother’s probably reading this and that statement probably just scared her so: mummy, please note that i wouldn’t be writing about it if i weren’t poised to pull a rabbit out of my hat in the very nick of time).

it’s a not great job in no way helped by the fact that there are so many freaking versions of it. in my email, in dropbox, on various harddrives. there are no less than ten CONSUMPTIONs, i kid you not. to heap confusion atop confusion, somewhere along the line, numerals were introduced into the mix, leading to files like CONSUMPTION 1 (2)(3)(3).

what the ef is that?! i don’t even know. and it belongs to me.

given the general disorganization of my enterprise, it’s somewhat inevitable that disaster would strike.

in working on the jackie paper while on a flight from vegas to chicago, 8 pages in, i finally arrived at a point. not just any point, mind you, but a point that is actually valid. a point about which one might be justified in writing 8 pages and about which other people might want to read.

satisfied, i closed the document and didn’t glance at it for 5 days.

imagine my surprise then yesterday when i opened up the CONSUMPTION MONEY REGIMES (2)(9)(1) file and found no point there. like, not even one.

everything else was there. the words “nymphomaniac”, “frugality” and “kerfuffle”. the anecdote about the sex movie. the one paragraph summation of 60 years of movie magazine history that i wrote in february 2004 and which has appeared in everything i’ve ever written since. the quote likening the onassis marriage to black separatism (no lie).

all there. like old friends, waiting for me. the one thing missing? THE POINT.

i actually wondered if it was all a dream. if, in some delirium, i had not only dreamed about this paper yet again but, even worse, dreamed about writing a crucial passage for it, and then awoken believing that dream for a solid 5 days before realizing that it had never ever happened.

forunately, it did. and, praise god above, CONSUMPTION MONEY REGIMES (12)(9)(1) has been found.

8 days. 27 files. all i need is one.

(photographs by eve arnold)

2 thoughts on “biographers love to talk about process

  1. Pingback: an abbreviated love letter to lara ehrlich, editrix | finding jackie

  2. Pingback: an abbreviated love letter to lara ehrlich, editrix | finding jackie

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