Afterword to Then Again

Reading Diane Keaton’s cleverly constructed and unapologetically revealing memoir Then Again I’ve spent more time reflecting on my life and feelings than her actual story.  Friends regularly accuse me of going off on tangents.  To me, my rambles all are on track.  Some books are favorites because of where they take my thoughts. It is a surprise and often a disappointment to reread one of these favorites and discover it isn’t what I remembered.

*

I feel validated when an author states my obvious.  It’s disappointing when we’ve used the same words.

I feel pleasure when the author articulates emotions and feelings that are in my stomach and in my heart but haven’t yet been put into words by my head.

I also enjoy being struck by an opposing view when it causes me to pause and rethink.  I can handle seeing the black and white turn grey

Diane Keaton has done all three.

*

Then Again, like the Jacqueline Kennedy interviews that I wrote about in an earlier post, was a gift.  This was a gift from my older son’s girlfriend.  They just recently decided to go their separate ways.  It’s a difficult thing for a couple to do, especially a couple that worked so well together.  I’ll never know why.  Hopefully they both know why.  But that is part of the baggage this book carries for me.  Bittersweet baggage, because she is a delightful woman (and he a wonderful young man).

My other son has a new girlfriend who, and I’m not sure if this is because I just read Diane Keaton, reminds me of Diane Keaton.  I don’t know her well enough to say that their personalities are similar, but she seems to have the same presence.  She’s delightful too.

*

Diane Keaton’s mother kept 85 separate journals, and scrapbooks.  Her writing started with letters to her husband while they were separated after the war.  He was in Boston in the Navy. She was 24, in California, and had just given birth to Diane.

I kept an on-and off diary starting in high school, wrote copious letters in college, and influenced by Anaias Nin in the seventies, began years of a passionate outpouring of what I remember as drivel, whining, and moaning about the lack of exciting boys/men in my life, or their rejection of me, and my utter alone-ness.  Finally I stopped writing.  Things must have improved.

During one visit to my parents’ home, my mom brought me up to the attic and presented me with a box of things that I had left there while I spent a year in France.  Included in that box were the journals.  Oh my god, I thought.  Did my mom read these?  What would she have thought?  I didn’t open them, but brought them home.

As my children grew, however, so did my anxieties about what was actually in those journals.  If I didn’t want to read them for fear of what they contained, how would my children or my husband, react to them   One day they went out with the trash.

As an archivist by profession – this was total heresy.

Sometimes I wonder what was in those journals and if I wrote well – but never enough to regret not keeping them, even after reading about Diane Keaton’s mother’s scrapbooks.  The future has always been more important than the past to me.

*

The last chapter of Then Again is Diane Keaton’s reflection on the final chapter of her mother’s life – her death.  Like my mom, Diane Keaton’s mother had Alzheimers Disease.  We believe my father did also.  But neither of my parents have been as debilitated by the disease – at least not yet.  I can’t bear the thought of my mom curling up and shrinking away.  It could happen. Maybe we’ll be lucky and one day she will just lie down to rest on the couch as she always does in the afternoon, but not wake up.  The disease shows very little mercy.   I have not yet been able to put my emotions and feelings stirred up by this chapter into words.  Diane’s story with her mother has been no help to me.

*

I was supposed to read this book.  Diane Keaton’s mom would cut out photos and headlines from magazines and she would copy quotes from everywhere.  One day she had a cover from a New Yorker thumb tacked to her kitchen bulletin board.  It read “ Is it possible to go backwards and forwards at the same time?”  Yes it is – just as it is possible to grow younger and older at the same time.

Prologue to Listening to JBKO

Shirley and I started work at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the same day, September 13th, 1971.  We worked together in the library’s temporary quarters in Waltham, although not on the same projects.  We were still colleagues when the Library moved to its new building – stunning, out of the way, and leaky – on Columbia Point in Boston.  I left in ’83 to have my first son, and Shirley left for the Boston Globe in ’84.

Waltham staff at JFK Library / 2008

The Waltham staff of the JFK Library gets together for reunions about once every two years – when someone who has moved far away is back in town, when the JFK Library Foundation puts on a big bash, sometimes unfortunately at funerals.  I go because my work there was over-the-top and my colleagues, for the most part, were very bright and interesting people. I’d go to more of the events, including the Hemingway Awards in the spring, but I live more than 3 hours away, and I’m very content at home.

I am so happy that Shirley and I are still friends.  The date of our meeting, September 13th is a very significant day in my life. It is also my marriage date, the date I started work as librarian at Lowell National Historical Park, and the date that my husband found out he had lymphoma.  Meeting Shirley is in there with some of my biggies.

For my 65th birthday Shirley gave me the book of Jacqueline Kennedy’s interviews with Arthur Schlesinger.  They were recorded  just four months after the President’s death in 1964.  The book bears Caroline’s signature.  It was a wonderful present.  I don’t know if I would have bought or read the book otherwise.  It was a boxed set with CD’s.

With Jacqueline Kennedy at the opening of the Hemingway Room 7/18/1980

I met Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, or JBKO, as we referred to her in the library, several times.  The staff thought it undignified and too familiar to call the former First Lady “Jackie,” but Mrs.Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis was too formal.  I was curator of the Ernest Hemingway Collection and I would see her at Hemingway events, which she often attended.

At one of these events I introduced JBKO to my husband. The next time we saw her — a year, two years later — she amazed us by remembering him and our conversation.  She asked us about our house that we had told her we were building. Even after I left the library Clark and I would return and see her.  We told her we had opened a children’s bookstore, Book Nooks & Krannies in New Hampshire.  Months later a big unmarked box of The Fisherman’s Song by Carly Simon, illustrated by Margot Datz, arrived at the store.  They were all signed “Love, Carly Simon.”

I think I walked around in a daze for a week or two.  I was overwhelmed.  Where did these books come from?  Were they a mistake?  What should I do about them?  There was no note, no paperwork, no bill.  I didn’t want to be presumptuous but I thought perhaps JBKO asked Carly to sign them and  had Doubleday send them to me.  JBKO was Carly Simon’s editor at Doubleday, and the editor, songwriter, and artist knew each other on Martha’s Vinyard.  Wondering how to thank her, and still not being sure if I should thank her for fear of embarrassing both of us if she hadn’t, I did nothing.  I thought next time I see her . . .

Of course, next time never came.  And that is one of my regrets.  How does one thank someone who has passed away for having done something so thoughtful?

I have lots of books in piles around the house waiting to be read.  I wondered when I would get to Jackie’s.

Then I remembered.  I used to love listening to books when I was by myself on a long car ride.  I would occasionally be so engrossed, in Water for Elephants for example, that I missed my exit to Moultonborough and almost made it to Canada.   I eventually wore out the player and turned to NPR and singing with my ipod.

Now I have a new car with a functional CD player, and a new 2-hour each way drive to visit my mom in New Jersey every week.  I could listen to the book.

And I am.  My first thoughts were about JBKO’s voice.  It is very feathery, and reminds me, unfortunately, of Marilyn Monroe.  She has an accent.  I cringe when I hear myself saying “cawfee” for coffee, but if JBKO can speak with a somewhat unflattering accent, I can too.  I hope it is endearing.

I’m more than half way through.  It’s sometimes hard to hear what they are saying.  I’ve got to fill in the blanks in my memory.  I’m curious to compare the book and the CDs.

In the meantime I’m going to send a copy of The Fisherman’s Song off to Shirley this afternoon, and start writing about my impressions of what I have heard so far.

Process 2: The Five Sighted Men and the River that Runs Through Hills Like White Elephants

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

My temptation is always to write too much.

Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins, 1940

Writing about the view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my window has been a struggle.  There is so much to say, so many stories attached to the view and so much history to my feelings about it.

I remember a story telling workshop led by Jay O’Callahan.  He had each of us talk about some object in our childhood home.  He wanted us to describe it using details.  We could talk about how it looked, or what we used it for, or if we liked it, or what it meant to one family member, anything – but fill it with details.  And that’s how I started writing about the view.  My mind was exploding with ideas, the content grew but I needed to keep from trying to squeeze a book into a brief essay.

Finally I remembered Hemingway and his iceberg theory.  I didn’t have to tell it all.  I could just know it and it would be there.

*

Since I have a view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my home, when I think of the Hudson River I see my view.   I’m very close to the water.  I went out and counted 70 paces from the back of my house to the river, if I could walk it like the crow flies.  It’s down 14 steps, across a narrow piece of CSX land, thru the lilacs, across a trench where some have said CSX has an overflow pipe to keep the river off the tracks during storms and high tides (I haven’t found any such evidence), over a northbound and a southbound set of rails, through a mess of sumac to the river.

It’s not an idyllic view and conversation ceases as the train goes by.  Although only one unhappy person, who never seemed to want to see anyone else be happy, has actually told me that my house was a very, very bad purchase, mostly because of its location, I am sure there are many others who probably would feel the same way.  I think the realtor who showed me the house was very surprised that I brushed off the train with a wave of the hand.

There are ten windows across the river side of the second floor of my house and they offer ten different pictures.  I delight in each one. Starting from the north, I look up the river and never really see anything, but I keep hoping something will come into view.  From the second window I see the cement plant, which could be worse, and which I think of as a castle lit up at night.

The next picture is of the hamlet directly across from mine.  I have driven over several times, and I sit on a bench put up by someone and peer back at my house, which looks a bit industrial itself.  At night I can see the lights of cars coming down the hill and imagine mothers and fathers coming home for dinner with their children.

When I hear the whistle of the freight train across the river, I look out the fourth window to the one spot where I can actually see the cars going by.

The next window gives a straight on view of the little island with two trees – the old Cheviot dock and an in-your-face telephone pole. I forgot to mention the telephone wires that I usually photoshop out of the view on the computer, and when I’m not focusing on the birds on the wire – out of my mind also.

In the winter there’s a blinking green buoy seen from the next window, and it is joined by a red one in the warm weather.

I’ve got tracks, telephone poles, and a cement factory, and a public launch parking area.  But it’s a wonderful view – not a complete 180 degrees, but close.  In addition to the island, there’s Round Top and Kaaterskill Pass.  Actually it is Kaaterskill Clove Pass.   There are beautiful sunsets and even more beautiful, the reflection of the sunrise in the morning.

I can watch the ripples, sometimes waves of the water and wonder about the currents.  Much has been written about the Muhhekunnetuk – the river that flows both ways, and has two spellings and has two pronunciations.

The pictures change by the minute.  I sometimes see geese with their heads under their wings taking a rest as they hitch a ride on a chunk of ice. I first hear the throbbing and then see the lego barges of red, white, blue and yellow floating by.  I see glorious cloud formations and mist and sometimes the fog comes in so thick I see nothing.  Every now and then the rays coming from the clouds are so outstanding and brilliant that I really believe there must be a God.

*

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I’ve got to constantly remind myself about that, rather than create posts with titles like the above.

The only time I had even a little bit of hesitancy about my view was when I first visited Olana, Frederick Church’s home.    That story is still in my well.