When I went to the public library to get research books out on Marilyn for the first time, I noticed something strange in the online catalogue. Most of the listings on the subject of Marilyn were marked either “Storage” or “Special Collections”. Confused, I asked a nearby librarian what special collections meant. I noticed that she flashed a little defiance when she answered, which suggested that maybe she had historically been given flack by patrons on this issue.
“That means that you can not take the books out of the library”.
“Oh”, I said, “Well, how about Storage?”
This second question piqued her curiosity and she asked me what exactly I was looking for. When I told her my subject a look of understanding and relief came over her face. She then became my confidant. She explained that although Marilyn died almost fifty years ago the library still had to hide her books away because…and here’s the fun part: people stole them right off the shelves.
“Even after fifty years!” she crowed.
She directed me to the second floor where I could request books from “Storage”. I waited a very long time while another, not so chummy librarian located a book from the storage room, which was beyond a locked door. I felt two things about this experience: initially I shared the first librarian’s delight that Marilyn was such a super star that the library still had to lock her away. Then I felt sad that she was such a super star that the library still had to lock her away.
A friend told me that one of his college professors had a theory that celebrities who die too young are like Christ figures. They shine so brightly for our consumption and then they die in a way that allows us to go on consuming them for years and years to come. I thought about my library experience again when he told me this, how it was not enough for folks to borrow the book from the library. The books were secreted away in a back pack or tucked under a shirt into a waistband so the book could be owned, not just borrowed.
If I look at this project in an unflinching way, I see that I do want to touch and maybe even own a part of Marilyn’s light. I wonder if my faith in my own special “Alice” light is in question here. But a funny thing is happening. As I am examining Marilyn’s life and prepare for a physical transformation, I am finding myself more and more deeply curious about me and my own suffering. I am taking photographs of my face nearly everyday to document the physical transformation. Some days I look really sad and self involved; some days brighter, more wise; some days a little silly. On a rare occasion, I look completely unguarded. And I realize that these photos do not represent the whole day, even, just a moment in a day. I am starting to understand why Marilyn loved to be photographed so much. Everyday, I am a different Alice. I am always trying to discover what I am so I can get the t-shirt, post it on Facebook and be done with it. But here is the photographic evidence of the impossibility of that task, furthermore this me is so much more interesting. Beyond the first question, which for me is often “Am I pretty?”; is a gloriously vast world of unknowns.
I think Marilyn struggled with this same experience throughout her life, being affirmed only as “The Girl” and wanting to be seen as a deeper, more powerful actor. In her photographs, I can see that she has potential for both and so much more. Maybe this is why we steal her books from the library, so we can wake up the part of ourselves that is unnameable and almost unknowable.