The Space Between Us

Sam Shaw

Dear Marilyn,

I was speaking with one of my meditation instructors today and he said that sometimes we can be aware of the space between ourselves and another person. We can recognize that there is you and there is me and there is also the space between us. Wide open space.

Bert Stern spoke about this space too in the documentary Bert Stern Original Madman. He said that a photograph isn’t about the subject or the photographer, but about “the space between us. It’s invisible space, a space where anything can happen.”

Lately I am wondering how close I can really get to you. I made a little video about that here. It’s odd but a few times recently I have caught myself looking like you. I don’t really look like you but I don’t really look like me either. Did you ever look at photos of yourself and think “who is that woman”? Is it because we carry around an image of ourselves that is fixed at some other age some other time?

Sometimes I wonder if we humans are meant to be photographed at all. A photo fixes a moment in time, but life is ever-changing. I will never be that person I was yesterday. Is there anything about me that does not change? It seems that you were somehow able to freeze in time and remain the same in my imagination for all these years.

August is rapidly approaching. In August I will spend a day with you (as you?). What will happen in the space between us, Marilyn? Sometimes I think that I want to give you another breath, another day. Sometimes I think I have been searching for you to find me.



Losing Babies/Growing Up

1962 George Barris

Dear Marilyn,

I fear I am somehow losing the ability to write from my heart. In recent years we have been privy to many of your letters and journals and I find it quite comforting to know that you sat down with pen in hand and spilled out the contents of your heart. I can see your effort and struggle to find the right words. I can see that you didn’t intend for those words to be seen. And here I am, years later so grateful for a look inside your messiness; your insatiable desire to understand life.

I think I am like you in this regard.

I wanted to tell you that we have something else in common. I too lost a baby. We called her Ella, although we didn’t know if she was a boy or a girl. The night before I miscarried I was performing on stage. I started spotting before the performance, but decided to go on anyway. Oh God, I wanted Ella.

Please forgive me for bringing up a painful subject. I just wanted to let you know that I too have felt the spasms of my body doing exactly what I didn’t want it to do. I have lain on my side in the dark feeling the enormity of the event while my hips pushed out a baby too tiny for life.

Did you feel, as I did, that you had been chosen when you found out you were pregnant? Like everything was finally right in the universe?

I felt that there were many questions that I needn’t worry about anymore. Especially the whole “Why Am I Here” one.

Once the hormones kicked in I started to fear my own body. I was afraid to let go of control and let this baby take over. I struggled with quitting caffeine and never fully did which probably increased my chances of miscarriage. I was trying to do a lot and I was tired. My father told me after the miscarriage “Next time you get pregnant, just be pregnant.”

Now I am nearing forty and I don’t know if there will be a next time. Like you, I always thought I would be a mother. How do I reconcile my lifelong dreams with this reality of time marching on? Where do I find meaning in life if not with a child? While this thought is scary, there is also some bit of liberation. What if I do get to skip that whole thing? There are certainly enough babies in the world.

The miscarriage led me directly to you and the rest of this project. As I dive deeper into this I see it is a way for me to work with all these identities (mother/actor/wife/buddhist/daughter/sister/woman) and see what is underneath them.

Without putting too much pressure on you, I think becoming you might be an opportunity for me to create something. Something that is not really you and not really me, but both of us too. Do you mind if we work together in this way?

You see, you are the guardian of a part of my heart that threatens to harden with all this real life stuff. As a child I looked at your image on my bedroom wall and knew that all things were possible. As I got older I felt less and less possibility. I don’t want to harden my heart, Marilyn. I’m sorry if this is strange for you, but you are the person I choose to accompany me on the first part of this journey. I think you might understand. I imagine you saw all things possible in Marilyn Monroe too.

Thank you for your beautiful spirit that just gives and gives even these fifty years later. I’ll write again soon.



mm and superman

Today I listened to a story from the This American Life archives about Mark Wyzenbeek; who started going out dressed as Superman after his wife died. He also learned to sew and makes his own costumes.* He says:

“I had never had anyone real close to me pass away before. Your grandparents, they’ve lived a full life and you’re expecting that. But someone so young and beautiful and with their whole life ahead of them, it just really hit me that she doesn’t have any more tomorrows. And I thought, well, I better start getting as much out of today– each today– as I can.

And what would help me do that? And I enjoy wearing the costumes. And I just couldn’t wait to go out somewhere and have a bunch of people see it. And it’s just been a real kick ever since.”

This reminds me of a man from my mom’s Quaker group named Dick. Dick always showed up for Sunday meeting in head-to-toe plaids. I think perhaps he had found something that was beautiful and made sense to him and he decided to stick with it. Really get to know it, and let that thing define his identity in some way. I really admire this quality.

In my story, the courage to transform into Marilyn came after a miscarriage. My realization was like Mark’s: life can be so short. Why wait?

I wonder who was Marilyn’s man-of-steel. She was known to keep a picture of Abraham Lincoln by her bed. “I used to read everything I could find about him, he was the only famous American who seemed most like me, at least in his childhood.” she wrote in her autobiography.

I wonder if Marilyn was Norma Jeane’s Superman?

Marilyn is very much my Superman lately. She is my plaid outfit. Engaging in this year-long pursuit of her is changing me. I am not becoming her so much as becoming defined by proximity. I am becoming. Not her. Not me. An adventurer carved out by the journey, never reaching the destination.

*The picture above is not Mark Wyzenbeek.

On Lateness


“You know a lot of people have, oh gee, real quirky problems that they wouldn’t dare have anyone know. But one of my problems happens to show: I’m late. I guess people think that why I’m late is some kind of arrogance and I think it is the opposite of arrogance. I also feel that I’m not in this big American rush, you know, you got to go and you got to go fast but for no good reason. The main thing is, I want to be prepared when I get there to give a good performance or whatever to the best of my ability. A lot of people can be there on time and do nothing, which I have seen them do, and you know, all sit around sort of chit chatting and talking trivia about their social life. Gable said about me, “When she’s there, she’s there. All of her is there! She’s there to work.” – Marilyn Monroe 1962

“With digital imaging coming into the marketplace, a guy like George Lucas could take Marilyn Monroe and put her in a 007 film. The simulation would be the main actress, and you’d think you’re watching Marilyn Monroe…Who would have bought a brand like Marilyn Monroe, thinking one could still put that person in a movie? Maybe we won’t get $20 million – the going rate for a famous actress – but we have the #1 actress in the world! We might do it for a little less, but we promise you she’ll show up on the set every single day. She won’t be recovering from a rough night. She’ll be right on time. Guaranteed!” – Jamie Salter 2011

Jamie Salter is Chairman & CEO of the Authentic Brands Group, a brand development and licensing company that currently owns Marilyn Monroe.

Anatomy of a Project

Welcome! This project is called Four Rooms. The creation of the Room One will take place from July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013.

This year will be spent researching, gathering artifacts and transforming into the woman who lives in this first room. During the year, I will write and publish my findings about the process in this blog. Toward the end of the year, I will create a performance in which I live as the woman in the room created with gathered artifacts. I am particularly interested in exploring boundaries of identity, environment, and performance.

Let’s enter the room. The woman who lives here is Marilyn.