an abbreviated love letter to lara ehrlich, editrix

i never wanted to be a writer. because writing is, let’s face it, rather dull.

editing is where the action’s at.

but i don’t mean proofreading, which is what most people probably think of when they think of editing. to use a gross metaphor: proofreading is like picking the fish up from the butcher; editing is being the butcher. Continue reading


in 52 days, i’m presenting a paper that i’ve not yet begun to write.

my proposed title contains the following words (presented here in no order): “adventure”, “stardom”, “tabloid”, “feminism”, “narrative”, journey”, “the NEW woman”, “via”, “jackie onassis”.

it contains not one but TWO colons. 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.

there are things you know you need to do

there are things you know you need to do. by which i don’t mean the honorable, upstanding things, but the thoroughly stupid, senseless, impractical ones. the things people will warn you away from precisely because they seem to make no sense. or because they cost a small country’s annual budget.

this has come up before. last year i used this exact logic as justification for going to paris for 13 hours. i’m realizing that, for me, the most thoroughly stupid, senseless, impractical things are maybe always going to involve paris.

i’m not sure what to do with that just yet. except go back to paris.

come may, i’m presenting a paper at a french conference on narrative. a paper establishing jackie’s tabloid life narrative as being of feminist importance.

the conference is five months away. so far, my paper exists only as a three paragraph abstract that hits upon jackie’s feminist importance in the vaguest possible terms. this proposition is stupid, senseless and impractical on many levels, not to mention expensive. by extension, i’m ruthlessly gung-ho.

in hopes of finding inspiration, i’ve been wading through the paper piles that have accumulated during the last eight years of research. two dozen legal pads filled with old notes and random musings. that is how i happened upon this, written in february 2004:

“jackie o as feminist icon? fun book to write but too hard to prove. TRUE but no one would believe it. it cannot be done.”

my first thought upon reading this? merde.

my second thought? yes, it can.

(photographs by peter beard)

jackie is having a moment

my mother has now twice used the phrase “you go, girl.”

the first was way back in march 2010, when she heard i was having coffee with a philosopher, whom i mistakenly believed to be a lawyer. this was coming on the heels of a four-month period during which i’d spent most of my time reading twilight– so i can see how meeting a man for caffeine (regardless of the particulars of his employment) could be interpreted as such great progress that my mum would channel her inner spice girl and exclaim, you go, girl.

the second instance happened this past monday. we’re talking about a jackie idea i’ve been toying with, an idea that suddenly- out of nowhere- seems to have legs. she’s excited and i sense it’s coming. it seems only logical that, at some point, the torrent of “jackie is having a moment” is going to give way and yield yet another you go, girl.

but it’s still a surprise when she says it with such gusto, with such enthusiasm. and it’s still a surprise, the sensation i feel upon hearing her say it. the tiny thrill and very great sense of power that comes from the fact that my mother thinks i can do this and she has said, you go, girl.

(mm photo by john vachon)

t-minus 750

how long are you going to keep this up? my father asked.

i have made the mistake of informing him that- thanks to a combination of fun, work and biography- in an eight day stretch i’m going from l.a. to winnipeg and to nyc. all this during the season that i have trumpeted to the family as one in which i will be “taking some time off.”

i gave myself three years. we’re just past one. i’m having the time of my life! it’s a glorious wonderland of biographical dreams come true! a carnival of glitter and happy and cake staffed by jackie’s nearest relatives and dearest friends!

so, it’s almost totally irrelevant that, being the mistress of this carnival over the last year has aged me 800. at least.

and not in a helen mirren way. oh no, no. this is not a fine, full-bodied vintage, but a sour crustiness. the kind that typically comes from whole lifetimes of hardcore drug usage. we’re talking desperately aged. trashed. like keith richards.

i do wonder how long i can keep this up, but i don’t mention that to my dad. instead, i remain incandescently positive and say, i’m almost there! there’s just l.a. and winnipeg and new york and then maybe prague and paris and london and…

this is where he interrupts me. i know, i know. go, have your adventure. you’ll sleep when you’re dead.

(mm photo by jock carroll)

los angeles


new york


i’m in newport again. the stepbrother isn’t feeling well.

he’s been working on his tan, sunning at the beach every afternoon. he tells me this when i walk in the door. his blue eyes shine bright in the golden brown of his face.

the pauses are long but i’m getting better at this. i’ve learned to wait, to be patient. so we sit in the thick silence as he searches for the words.

i find myself watching him- jackie’s 84-year-old stepbrother on whom i have a teeny crush. observing his facial features as they arrange themselves in preparation for the communication of a thought.

but sometimes my mind wanders and, during one of these pauses, it darts back to something someone said. that i am confusing, contradictory. that my projects are incoherent.

i sit there, on that low-to-the-ground couch in the stepbrother’s sunroom wondering if i am doomed by my own whimsicality. if i will fail because my personality, my interests, my self are inconsistent.

we’ve been deep into an analysis of jfk’s foreign policy in the middle east when the stepbrother coughs and, apropos of nothing, he says: you know, oline, i’m presbyterian but i go to the episcopal church… i teach islam at the school and i’m a christian but most days i think the muslims have got it all right… i’m a conservative and i love obama… my friends tell me i make no sense… but i make sense enough for me so i don’t listen to them. 

having said this, he levels a steady gaze in my direction. it’s as though he has read my mind.

he holds the gaze a few seconds and then shoots me a flirtatious wink.

i’m struck upon leaving that i may never see him again. this hits me as absolutely the saddest thing.

and then there was paris

there are things you know you need to do.

by which i don’t mean the honorable, upstanding things, but the thoroughly stupid, senseless, impractical ones. the things people will warn you away from doing precisely because they seem to make no sense.

but these people, they do not see the story of which these stupid, senseless, impractical things may later one day be a part. i am blessed/cursed. i see the story.

it hadn’t occurred to me that i needed to go paris until i was alone in new york.

this was in march, early in my first doomed attempt to locate the top shop at the corner of broome and broadway that, despite two subsequent trips and copious billboards attesting to its existence, i have still never found. when i walked out of washington square park at the intersection of 4th and mcdougal, the light hit the pavement in such a way that can only be described as a very poor imitation of cimetière du montparnasse on 27 september 2009.

seeing that, there was no way i could not go to paris.

that sounds beyond ridiculous when you try to explain it: i’m a biographer writing this book about jackie in paris that i’m really not writing because there’s no there there, but i know in my soul that i’m meant to go to paris because the light in new york just wasn’t pretty enough.

dude! crazypants! and yet…

going to paris is part of the story. if not jackie’s then mine. i clung to that belief for months. practicality be damned, i was going to paris! and i did.

while in london last month, i hopped over to paris for thirteen hours. systematically, i hit the high points of that city i love, all the while eyes peeled for whatever it was that was going to make sense of the fact that i was there.

and i got nothing.

jackie’s houses were uninspiring and my travels uneventful. the little cafe outside notre dame where, two years before i’d had The French Fries of My Life, had since removed them from the menu.

at one point, desperate, i picked up a rock from a walkway by the eiffel tower because then, if i returned without a tale, without words, i’d at least have something tangible from this trip to hold in my hand.

with two hours left- annoyed, tired and with terribly sore feet- i collapsed on a bench in the back garden of notre dame. half an hour later, my story sat down on the opposite bench.

this is a useful metaphor. or at least i choose to see it as such because it is evidence that i am not crazy. paris was part of the story. and the story is always there, whether it looks as we imagine it will or not.

[need more paris? go HERE.]

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