writing around hillary rodham clinton

it’s slowly dawning that i’m maybe going to spend my adult writing career writing around hillary rodham clinton. (as opposed to my juvenile writing career which was all about horrible poetry and civil war novels.)

by this i mean writing about a trilogy of female lives that i see as being deeply embedded in the issues HRC raised for me as a teenaged girl. so HRC is there without my actually writing about her. because i don’t want to write about her. because, this many years removed from the 1990s, hillary hurts.

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book ’em

(27 april 2011)

i’m sitting in riverside center room 12 listening to this guy wax on about how the male youths of the 60s were pivotally influenced by the depictions of manhood in john wayne’s the sands of iwo jima when i realize that i am maybe writing two books. three if you count that other book that i’ve not really written but about the writing of which i’m writing in that additional book.

so, four.

four books.

i am writing four books.

but what i’m really doing is not writing any of them.

one of the four is done. except that it isn’t because i’m pretty sure now that it may need to become two. if not, it sure as hell needs to become a better one because it’s maybe a half at present. and a crap half at that.

so what we have is this:

jackie: the definitive biography
jackie: the tabloid years
jackie in paris: the biography
jackie in paris: the novel of the failed attempt to write the biography

none of them written. none of them being written.

there’s this phase of writing we don’t talk about much. the phase where you’re writing nothing.

this tends to look like laziness. i would argue it isn’t. but then, maybe i’d think that precisely because it’s the stage i’m in. it’s easier to justify the notion that i’m mentally arranging pieces and plotting course than to admit i’m stewing in a pit of ideas from which i cannot crawl out.

in high school, due to my great fear of tardiness and inability to master a combination lock, i never used my locker but, instead, lugged 30 pounds of textbooks around every day.

that is how writing sometimes feels. all those books and projects and pieces crammed into your skull. you carry them around with you, because it’s a frightening process to get them out and because you do not yet have the key.

shots in the dark

(24 march 2011)

i wrote the sister again.

yes, the sister has already informed me she does not give interviews about jackie, but considering i have very little to lose beyond pride and dignity and all that shit that i’m pretty sure i shouldn’t value quite so much as i do, i wrote her again.

this brings me the closest to groveling that i have thus far come. and i can proudly say with some dignity, i don’t feel the least bit bad about it.

money makes the world go round

(18 february 2011)

if it is challenging to explain why one is good at what one does, it’s nearly impossible to put a price on it.

i have been asked to establish my fee.

this is a process enormously complicated by the fact that my fee has, thus far, been in the very wee digits. but i’m trying to be a biographer. like, for real. and i know the very wee digits do not help me do that.

so i am sitting on the fainting couch that is symbolic of my adulthood trying to solve a problem i’ve wrestled with since i began baby-sitting in middle school, when i took whatever they gave me at the end of the night and sacrificed many a friday evening for $5.95.

please note: the national minimum wage was $4.75 per hour. mine was $1.98.

that’s a monumental gap. as is the distance between $13.75 per hour and $75.

and while i know, in reality, i’m just determining the financial value of my hours, it feels like i’m being called upon to do so much more than that.

i’ve been asked to establish my fee. in doing so, i’m defining my value.

i’m sitting on the fainting couch that symbolizes my adulthood facing that girl who gave up her friday nights for $5.95.

it takes tremendous effort to not sell myself short. to admit what i think i’m worth.

all wrong

(17 january 2011)

i wonder sometimes if i’ve got it all wrong. made up a series of elaborate meanings where there are, in fact, none.

these are the scary days.

on the good days, it makes perfect sense and most days are good days.

gossip is a socially useful device. other people have proven that.

human beings are naturally self-centered. people have proven that as well.

and so, on the good days, it doesn’t seem such a leap to say that human beings take in gossip and apply it to their own lives. it’s only on the bad days that i realize this leap is enormous.

i am standing on a mountain of proven facts shouting something no one else has said. at least not in writing.

i would argue jackie’s was the most significant female life of the 20th century. i would argue the 1970s were the most important years of that life. i would argue that for reasons no one would ever guess and most everything ever published would argue that my argument is wrong.

i don’t really know what to do with that. except maybe shout a bit louder.


(12 january 2011)

i am alarmingly resistant to different ways of thinking. not necessarily in life in general, but when it comes to jackie, i take an extraordinarily limited view and subscribe to the age-old paradigm that one must write a book, find an agent, find a publisher, get published.

this has not worked for me in the past so Lord only knows why i cling to it still.

the problem with this, with the narrowness of my expectations, is that it makes it that much harder to ever get off the ground. there are too many impossibles, too many ifs. and if you never begin, you go nowhere.

for six years, i have been sitting on a book. a book that is written and which contends that jackie is an empty vessel. that she is an icon that encompasses every aspect of the mid-century female experience. a symbol that can take on any set of meanings we want her to have.

i have been sitting on this completed work since june 23, 2005, and i have only just now realized that, with this research, i can write papers on nearly every topic known to man.

jackie and motherhood. jackie and marriage. jackie and religion. jackie and wealth. jackie and racial relations. jackie as advertisement. jackie as self-help. jackie and sex. jackie and see-through tops.

i am only just now seeing i can take this show on the road.

it seems so stupidly obvious now. to be putting into practice the point i have been making all along. and yet, because the word “academic” most often translates as a pejorative, i have held back. i have been ridiculous.

because i have complained time and again that biographers hand down faulty information from one book to the next as though jackie’s story were a handmade quilt with which we must never mess. i have said this is wrong and yet i have done the same thing.

i have the missing piece of a puzzle no one has begun to put together. and i have kept that puzzle unused, unopened and in its original box.

lara said it was going to be the year we get published.

i didn’t believe her.

i was wrong.

here, kitty, kitty

(23 december 2010)

there is a convention of biographers convening in the middle of may.

thanks to some tantalizing press materials, it has long been known that the pre-conference reception will be held at the “washington d.c. home of a prominent biographer.”

the biographical community is fairly small and it’s safe to say that the number of biographers who own multiple homes is infinitesimal. so i was pretty sure i knew whose home this would be and i knew if i was right, then the answer was pretty, to quote lourdes leon, vair vair awesome.

there’s this biographer. she wrote a book about jackie. it has no bibliography and it contends jackie had electro-shock.

thanks to this book, the subject of my biographical quest has been, from the get-go, referred to by my grandmother as “that appalling jackie woman.”

this book is memorable and catchy and all-powerful. it laid the foundational myths that every subsequent jackie biographer has had to go to great lengths to debunk. for this, i should hate this biographer, but i don’t.

for thirty years, she was the only woman writing about jackie. i’ve barely got the balls to say i’m a biographer, but this woman has taken on both oprah and the royal family, bibliographies be damned. there is something to be said for such courage and for that she gets my respect.

when news came yesterday that the pre-conference reception was indeed being held at this biographer’s home, it was a revelation that pleased me much. that is until my father weighed in with a warning: if caroline finds out you’re consorting with such bad characters, she’ll never give up the family treasures.

i have not known what to make of this project from the beginning. it has been simultaneously underwhelming and too big to be believed.

all along, i have been waiting for a moment when what i am doing will suddenly hit me. a moment like this, like when my father reminds me that my actions could have long-lasting effects upon my relationship with caroline kennedy, and i think, oh, so this is for real.

sister, sister

(16 december 2010)

i am still writing letters. and, blessedly, getting letters in return. it is a struggle to comprehend that these letters are, in fact, progress. i put that down to the fact that they inevitably arrive in my life at points of extreme banality.

it is 6 p.m. on a tuesday. i am wearing a nightgown and kneesocks waiting on pasta to boil when i notice the sister has written me back.

oddly, it is news that i keep to myself for several days.

it’s a measure of how spoiled i have become that, upon receiving this letter, i assume it is from the daughter. that it is from the sister is somewhat of a surprise.

thanks to the myriad scope of things one reads when searching for the addresses of famous people on the internet, i know that the sister routinely takes upwards of six months to return autographed photos to her fans. since my letter went out into the world sans a zip code and to an unverified location that was an odd conglomerate of an address the step-brother had given me and one mistyped on fundrace.org, i expected that it was being sent forth into an abyss, never to be heard from again. but just twelve days later, here is a response.

a response that says very little, mind you, but a response nonetheless. the only thing of particular note being that the sister says i am right.

i have explained my project to the sister and she has said, “i think you are certainly right.”

while i kind of already knew that- it being generally accepted historical fact and all- it’s a tremendous relief to have it acknowledged. it feels terribly good to be right, for certain.

i immediately imagine how this can be best incoroporated into my letter of introduction.


i gently set this letter from the sister atop the pile of important papers on the floor, approximately six inches from the liter box. satisfied, i hike up my kneesocks and take the pasta off the stove.

the sister

(17 november 2010)

writing biography is like being blanche dubois. you’ve nothing except the kindness of strangers upon which to rely.

you hope they will remember. that they will talk. to you. that they will not die and take their secrets with them.

i’m writing a letter to the sister. the brother and the sister did not get along and the brother does not have the sister’s address and so i am sending this letter to the sister to an address the brother gave me at which the sister’s daughter may or may not still live in the hopes that it will reach the sister’s daughter who will then pass my letter along to the sister and the sister will then write me back.

that’s a whole heap of contingencies. particularly for a letter on which i forgot to include a return address.

i’ve written the sister before. seven years ago, i wrote her about this very thing. with my letter i included a list of 27 questions, most of them featuring separate bullet points. i pray she does not remember that. at this point, 10 seems a brazen liberty to take with someone’s time.

the sister is endlessly fascinating. she inspires an admixture of slight pity and extreme awe.

i do not expect she will write back. but i’ve gotten rather accustomed to the receipt of famous mail and there’s a part of me that’s getting cocky, spoiled by the people who have written back, even if only to say they don’t remember.

i want her to write back because she’s The Sister and she may have biographically important things to say and blah blah blah.

but mostly, i want her to write back so i can have a piece of paper with that handwriting. the handwriting that is just a few genetic degrees removed from jackie’s, which i know better than my own.

oh yeah.

(8 november 2010)

I am meant to be researching a Jackie book. I forgot this. Like, seriously, for a full week it was wiped from my mind.

I’m pretty sure this would not happen to a real biographer. No real biographer would be so engrossed in writing blog posts for an audience of 12 and reading Cold Mountain that she would completely forget about a project that has been rolling around in her head for the last 10 years.

It is hard not to be discouraged.

Because I need to go to Newport and yet I have no questions to ask once I get there. I have impressive letters. I am authorized(ish). And yet I have nothing.

An email from The Famous Artist’s wife has sat for two weeks in my inbox. They are waiting to answer questions. Sadly, I have none.

I am writing about something about which no one has written. Something no one who was involved and is still alive seems to remember.

I am tempted to call The Brother just to chat. He told me she loved parades. I know her so well and I did not know that.

I have written a book. Way back in 2004. I was 23 and didn’t know any better. I worked all day and would go home and write from 5 to 10. I remember nothing about living in Memphis beyond sitting before a 1999 Dell Dimension XPS T500 and a pile of magazines.

This was back before I had friends and parties and Chicago and wine.

That is why I did not want to do this. Writing is great, but living is so much more fun.

And I wonder sometimes if there is no point.

In 1949, Jacqueline Bouvier went to France. She lived at 76 avenue mozart. She was seen riding a motorcycle. She dated a diplomat’s son. She later said of the experience, “I loved it more than any year of my life.”

This is what we know. And maybe that’s enough.