typical, i’ve a strong sense of occasion and nothing really to say.
today is 22nd november.
58 years ago, the woman i’ve spent the last 18 years writing about was sitting beside her husband when he was shot by a man using a mail order rifle (retail = $19.95).
on thursday, i’m going to be giving a talk about the pink suit she wore that day. which seems like a terribly stupid thing to be putting words to right now, at a time when words are so hard to come by.
i always think this is the part of her life that least interests me but then, it’s also the part of her life from which everything after flows.
i’ve spent a lot of the last year thinking about PTSD and time and language and grief and violence. i’ve spent a lot of the last year thinking about the challenge of living in spaces, experiences, for which the language does not yet exist.
i’ve written about how i met her, of how she came into my life. again and again, over the years, i’ve written as a way of trying to figure out what the hell happened here.
all the while, often still lacking the language to shape any understanding of my own experiences of time and grief and violence. always, i think, using her story, in some ways, to sort my own out.
it’s a cliché that the biography is more about the biographer than the biographical subject.
it’s probably true that our para-social relationships with celebrities actually tell us nothing about them or who they are, and a whole hell of a lot about ourselves.
the thing that worries me, the thing that i cannot stop thinking about, is how the telling of a life shapes lives.
a biographer sexually harassed me. he has a book about a Black woman coming out on january 18th.
i am so very, very tired.
this post is supposed to be about jackie. it is still about jackie.
because, it was in writing about jackie that i met this man.
it was as a biographer of jackie that he expressed interest in me.
it was as a biographer that i was professionally impacted by the harm he did.
it was as a biographer in a professional organizational of biographers that i have been, now, twice harmed, as someone attempting to hold him accountable.
it is as a human being that i am currently ignoring an email about measures that might be taken within that organization to hold him accountable now.
i am so very, very tired because it has been a long semester. i have not yet lost a student but my students have lost so many moms and grandparents and friends.
i do not have words because my words are all spent on documents that go behind paywalls and/or are filed for the sake of “institutional knowledge.”
this started out being a post on the pathos of jackie kennedy dolls on etsy. then it was on 11/22, because i’ve such a sense of occasion and i really wanted to come through.
“prof really came through in the clutch” a student wrote in a rant last spring, as, off-stage, i was quietly, privately, losing my mind.
i am so very, very tired that, the other day, i had the thought that’d it really just be easier to wake up in february. to obliterate these next two months altogether. which isn’t fair at all, nor really even wanted.
but there are these moments when, in writing and life, it feels we’re asked to set ourselves on fire, and that is what i’m thinking about when i think of jackie today.
how gutsy to have gone on living. how fucking bold to have lived that life after living through that. to have married the dubious man, moved to greece, wandered round europe barefoot and braless.
i do not know that she was happy. i do not particularly know that she was emotionally engaged with life, during the period of her life that most interests me. which is maybe why it does interest me.
what i know is that when stephen spender asked her, at a dinner party, years later, what her greatest accomplishment was, she said it was that she weathered some difficult stuff and stayed sane.
i’d argue it’s also that she busted out of the world she was born into, the america she grew up in, and went on, in the words of winnie the pooh, an explore.
i’d argue that’s probably why she caught my eye as a teenager.
because i wanted to know (1) how you live through that, and (2) how you get out.
jackie was a way out.
the thing that is horrifying about experiencing harassment within your profession is that it is connected to the thing that you love, the thing that makes you you, the thing that helps you constitute yourself.
a writer friend remarked upon this the other day. how grateful she was that all of her experiences of harassment and violence occurred in dating, not in relation to her writing, her work.
he used his grief and my work against me.
i had a colleague who told me she and her college girlfriends always used to ask themselves what would jackie do?
this colleague wore amazing earrings.
often, when considering which earrings to wear, i’ll ask myself: what would gail wear?
typical, this post is weird and it has no point and no end.
so let’s leave it here, with jackie quoting henri cartier-bresson in her new yorker “talk of the town” column on an exhibition of his work… let us move forward remembering:
It’s ‘yes, yes, yes.’ And there’s no maybe . . . . It’s a presence. It’s a moment. It’s there!