The Oxford English Dictionary says to transform is to: make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character.
Just to be clear (and lest I forget) I am transforming myself into Marilyn Monroe over the course of a year. Of course, it isn’t possible for me to actually be Marilyn Monroe, but the experiment is about finding out how close I can get. I am curious to find out what is inherently me and not her and vice versa? I wonder how far I can push the boundaries of Alice, and what it is like to step into Marilyn’s shoes. Is there any Alice that needs to be held onto? What is really true about Alice, aside from the stories I tell myself? These stories seem to tether me to ideas about myself, which creates an identity. As my cousin recently pointed out to me last night, this construct seems to be “paper thin” and easily disappears in a moment where we forget our self-consciousness.
In a book called The End of Suffering, I find this paragraph:
Of course, many of us try to move beyond reinventing ourselves externally—new clothes, new car, new face, new partner….And confusing your story with your true nature leads to unsustainable inner contradiction and paradox. The actress Marilyn Monroe was an outstanding example of this problem—a person who seemed to have everything—and nothing, not even a self. In spite of her beauty, wealth, and position, she became lost in the Marilyn Monroe persona of her own creation. As she walked the alluring and profitable tightrope between innocence and sexuality, she was, in the end, unable to internalize and discover the woman behind all the photos. For Marilyn, being seduced by her story produced negative thoughts that began to outweigh her positive appreciation of life. It was this dissonance of story versus life that made her both crazy and sick. Over a long period of time, these contradictory thoughts, whether we are conscious of them or not, can become disruptive forces that bring dis-ease to our minds and our bodies.
I wonder if any of us can find the person behind the photos. The more I look for myself, the less I know about myself.
Lately I have been interested in the period of Marilyn’s life when she moved to New York City seeking transformation. The above photo is from that period. I love that she is wearing this shirt and tie, and her hair is almost masculine. The photo is from an interview when she returned to Los Angeles to make the film Bus Stop in 1956. You can watch the video here. This is the most self-confidant Marilyn I have seen yet. In the end she zings the reporter with: “No, I am the same person, it’s just a different suit.”, but I think she was exploring this question of identity constantly. Every photo session was an experiment
I think there are many forms of transformation but I am interested in two primary kinds. There is the transformation that arises from life experiences like birth, old age, sickness and death (check out this beautiful project to see a man age 12 years before your eyes) and then there are the transformations we choose to create ourselves. I am a total sucker for before and after pictures.
So the question I am working with is: What happens when we seek transformation? Are we able to truly change?