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. Continue reading

some lessons learned

jackie - warhol

biography does not do wonders for your love life.
jackie loved parades.
the suburbs aren’t that far away.
neither is evanston.
don’t go to the dutch pancake place the day after halloween.
always follow-up.
UCLA is not USC.
pick your pen name before you publish.
know that it will be mispronounced 75% of the time.
checking out books doesn’t mean you’ll read them.
reading books doesn’t mean you’ll remember them.
accept paypal.
splurge on your business cards.
wear fake fuchsia bangs.
it’s good to have friends of friends in foreign lands.
don’t do anything stressful after giving blood.
god sleeps from 12 to 3 a.m.
don’t be intimidated by technology.
if you ask, people will give you columns.
bring extra batteries.
never ever drive to memphis.
try to remember toothpaste.
book reviews are where the money’s at.
wash your hair.
send flowers.
read the book.
say yes.
some people improve upon acquaintance.
a fortune can be built with $5 bills.

t-minus 597

Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses

the philosopher is in town. we’re standing, shivering, on the boardwalk looking out on lake michigan when he asks what exactly the end outcome of the 20.09.13 plan is supposed to be.

and i give some whole blah-bitty-blah-crap answer about how where i live isn’t going to matter and how i’m going to be as mobile as i want to be. which kind of sort of maybe is what this was about in the beginning, but is really not at all what it’s all about now.

it’s funny, how you can have such a sense of where you’re going and see so many pieces of the picture without being able to precisely articulate what it is you’re doing or what it is you see.

i see jackie. that is all. i don’t know where she’ll take me, but i’ll go wherever she leads. she’s my adventure. and, at the moment, all i want, all i crave, all i need is biography and adventure. nothing else. except maybe paris.

in light of this (uncertainty?), it’s tempting to resort to labels. to attach all hopes and dreams to a finalized manuscript or a published book or a freelance job. but that feels limiting. which feels wrong.

i don’t want to be limited. i’m too in love with possibility.

right now, the end outcome of the 20.09.13 plan is an unknown and the 20.09.13 plan itself is about suspending expectations. about seeing what may come from that. from that massive, incredibly daunting void of not knowing.

as is the case with everything, there’s a jackie anecdote for this: she’s wearing a bikini and sitting on a greek beach sipping champagne with an old friend. and she turns to the old friend and she says, “do you realize how lucky we are? to have gotten out of that world we came from. that narrow world of newport [… to] have taken such a big bite out of life.”

she says this and then she smiles.

the only thing that is certain about 20 september 2013 is that i will have taken one hell of a big bite out of life and twelve million small steps forward since 20 september 2010.

that is all i know. and it is enough.

twenty minutes

if it weren’t for the twenty minutes just preceding everything i ever do, i think i could be quite successful.

but those twenty minutes, they’re a total drag.

it would be better if i had an assistant. someone whose sole responsibility it was to know what i was going to do so i wouldn’t have to know and then everything would be a surprise and the twenty minutes leading up to that surprise would be spent in a blissful haze of unknowingness rather than a maelstrom of knowledge and fear.

for instance, my assistant person would meet me after work, take me to my home, turn on my computer, hand me a coffee and say, and now you are going to facilitate a conversation with the author of a book that you’ve read and loved and we’re going to record it for this here podcast.

and i would be all, ooooooh, what a lovely opportunity. how grand. oh, hello there, author of the book i read and loved. let’s chat!

you see how easy that went down? it’s so much simpler than knowing for months that you’ve taken on something that involves three pieces of technology you do not know to use.

but without my assistant and with that knowledge, instead i manufacture dramas. like, amazingly stupid, ridiculously impossible albeit epic dramas. for instance, as of late, the feature presentation playing in my head has been: what if someone i’m interviewing has a heart attack on air?

come now. let’s be real.

never mind that it’s not even a live show, that is freaking NEVER going to happen.

add to that, the fact that it’s not even a creative scenario as i know i’m drawing heavily from the plot of gary paulson’s children’s classic hatchet, wherein the pilot of a two-person plane has a heart attack and the plane crashes in the canadian wilderness and our hero brian robeson- a kid who was simply on his way to visit his divorced father- is left to fend for himself in the wilds.

we’re talking about a podcast. it is in no way comparable to flying a two-person plane over the canadian wilds. and yet, somehow, in the mess that is my brain trying to come to terms with the things that i find difficult to do, the experiences are nearly identical.

this is why i need an assistant. someone who would tell me the things i need to do only as i need to do them. someone who would take hold of those twenty minutes just preceding everything i ever do.

because when you add those up over a lifetime, that’s so many minutes i’ve wasted. so much time i’ve squandered preparing for plot twists derived from children’s books.

i want to get to a point where i do not do this. a point where the twenty minutes just preceding everything i ever do are as euphoric as the twenty minutes coming just after. those moments where i feel as though i can fly that two-person plane over the canadian wilds, for myself, by myself, entirely on my own.



in things that happened that i did not expect to have happen and yet which it is good to have had happen, i am going to prague. because a paper i wrote- though i’m not entirely sure which one- was accepted to a conference on celebrity studies that’s being held there come spring.

this has done much to hammer home my belief that there is no better possible gateway to exotic(ish) vacations than biography, in general, and jackie, in particular.

i’ve proposed exotic travels to everyone i’ve ever dated (all of them actual, living people), and yet it wasn’t until jackie and i got all serious that the exotic travels came true.

it’s a fact that reenforces my central thesis that jackie is an icon of such elastic extremes that she can be anything you want her to be. for me, at the moment, she functions much like a passport. a glittering ticket to a world whose wonders prove an excellent pallative to the strain stemming from her secondary function as a financial sinkhole.

and so i’m apparently going to prague with jackie to deliver some paper in a palace. file that under sentences i couldn’t’ve even begun to imagine writing eleven months ago.

(photo by cbs news staff; STR/AFP/Getty Images) 

t-minus 2 years

one down, two to go.

on 20 september 2010, while riding home in a cab from midway, i decided i was going to be a biographer for real. i had a post-it and an endpoint and that is all.

this was like going to prom stag or studying at cornell for the summer. one of those adventures that is so exhilarating at the out-set but once you get into it, there’s a primal sensation of “holy shit!”

this past year has been very holy shit.

i don’t know what i thought would happen. all i know is that i expected none of what did, that i’ve no idea what’s next and that i wouldn’t have it any other way.

balls up

i am a biographer.

i’d been working up the nerve to say that for months. before, “becoming” always crept  into that statement. because it seemed too ballsy to state that i was, in fact, what i already am.

but a biographer is not a butterfly. it is something you are, not something you become.

every biographer i’ve met takes a different view of what it means to be a biographer and of how to best go about that. but, as is the case with most things in life, there are a million and one ways and you can have your pick.

i have chosen, obviously, a way that looks like utter insanity and seems to make very little sense.

in that, i keep coming back to these two things:

the sacrifice of expectations and the suspension of disbelief.

not to go all oprah here, but i think these are key if you’re going to actually be what, deep down, you already are. because you can’t create something new unless you give up your plans for how it’s going to look and you can’t dream big unless you accept that anything can be.

that’s the extent of my wisdom. that and buy the most beautiful business cards in all the world. because even if they’re an outrageous extravagance and you have to eat leaves and grass for the whole week after to pay them off, the look of amazement and the exclamation of THAT is a NICE card that comes out of the mouth of each person to whom you give one will make it well worth the expense.

people you may know

a funny thing has happened to my facebook “people you may know.”

it began with jennifer egan.

because i know two people who apparently know jennifer egan, facebook thought i might know her too. i do not know her, outside of the fact that she won the pulitzer three days before facebook thought we might be friends.

next there was erica jong.

i do not know erica jong. facebook thinks i maybe do. so i laughed and found this both flattering and an unwelcome reminder of how under-read i am in the area of feminist thought.

but then there was nick hornby.


NICK freaking HORNBY.

whom i have read. who facebook thinks i may know. who i would like to know and to whom, if i had any less dignity, i would write a gushing fan letter on how about a boy totally changed my eighteen-year-old life.

yes. it’s true. i am facebook friends with people who are facebook friends with NICK freaking HORNBY.

i’m well aware this should mean absolutely nothing. that, in reality, it does mean nothing. and yet it feels momentous.

and while i’m horrified to think what it says about my biographical career that i am, at present, charting its development through the increasing famousness of the people facebook thinks i may know, this does represent tangible progress.

because, when i look at them over there in the right margin and read that statement with a slightly different inflection, it rings entirely true. these are people i may know. someday.

russian tea time

 (1 june 2011)

i was sitting with my married friends in the corner of the russian teahouse in the early days of the deep dark winter of 2010.

i’d never met mr. married’s wife and i was seeing him for the first time in eight years. in his memories of me from college, i was reading books in corners at parties. in all of mine, he was wearing plaid pajama pants.

we talked about where we’d been living and what we’d been doing and everyone we’d ever known and then he asked what my dream job was.

i ordered an entree off the children’s menu, leaned over the vodka flights and said the first thing that came to mind: biographical researcher writing a biography on the side.

i’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

it was the first time i’d ever put it into words.