As you may or may not know, an archive was recently released containing never-before-seen excerpts from Marilyn Monroe’s private writings. Some of it is poetry, but most of it was an important element of her psychotherapy (and damn, she had a lot of that).
As far as I can tell, the legend and mystery of Monroe is a sort of cultural given — everyone knows who she was, that she had an affair with JFK, wore that white dress over the subway vent, and that she died mysteriously. Some people are what I’ll call Marilyn-o-files. They know every little detail of her life, have conspiracy theories about her death and hungrily await all these “newly released archives.” I do not consider myself one of these folks; my knowledge about and interest in Marilyn is….medium. I am something of a movie buff and have a reasonable interest in cultural history, and in that sense I’ve always recognized her as an important part of the Twentieth century. One of the first and most tragic examples of how fame can destroy.
I am also an avid reader of Vanity Fair, which means that if there IS any news about Marilyn (or the Kennedys, or Goldman Sachs, or some foreign millionaires), I’ll probably know about it. This past November (I’m a little behind in VF), a book was released containing “poems, letters, notes, recipes, and diary entries….that delves deep into her [Monroe’s] psyche and private life.”
I read the article. I read Marilyn’s journal entries. I delved deep into her psyche. I looked at photographs of the actual pages, with her actual handwriting. I learned that Marilyn was a bookworm. And a deep, dark, visceral writer.
And suddenly I felt something surprising — I identified with Marilyn Monroe.
I have private writings. I curl up with books on a regular basis. I have dark moods and feelings I don’t always understand. I think and analyze and write about the complications of intimacy, the danger of trust, the loneliness of loneliness. Looking over these pages, I felt a twinge of sisterhood with the blonde bombshell. I felt sorry for her, being so alone. I mentally admonished those who should have taken better care of her, treated her like the intelligent and sensitive woman she was (instead of locking her up in the psych ward for being exhausted).
But once the generic thrill of learning something you never knew wore off, I felt one thing – guilt. I just read someone’s diary! Who cares if it was Marilyn Monroe or my little sister? You just don’t do that.
This sparked an interesting debate in my mind (and household) – now that she’s gone, is it okay for the general public to look through those things? If they illuminate her mental state and prove that she was not suicidal, if they relieve her reputation of that possibility?
I think….yes, when you put it that way. If it were me, I wouldn’t care. If my loved ones want to know my mind after I’m gone, I guess it won’t matter to me….being dead and all. Matthew seemed a little less certain. He has volumes and volumes of writing…..chicken-scratch pencil strokes in tattered leaflets. He thought awhile and said, “I guess you could read them….”
And I get it. Because here’s the thing – journals are not meant for other people. (That’s what blogs are for.) My journal is the most private conversation in the world. I write when I’m confused or upset about something, when I need to get it out of my head but am not yet ready to talk. I write when I’m on vacation, because being away from home promotes a certain pensive mood that is conducive to sorting things out. I write when I’m very very angry, pressing hard onto the page in huge, angular letters, sometimes tearing a hole right through the paper. I write when I see something beautiful or have an epiphany, to document that time and place in my life. I write about my dreams, because they are too twisted to explain but too extraordinary to let go. I write about the profoundly stupid things I do sometimes, because they are too profoundly stupid to tell anyone else. I write about being alone, being in love, being a daughter, a partner, a sister, a friend. But no matter what I write about, my journal is unfiltered, unapologetic and unabashedly ME.
A journal is therapy. But it’s also a personal history, written by, for and (usually) about me.
But I bet if you were to read it, you would identify with a lot of the things I go through. Just like I identified with Marilyn.
It’s too bad Marilyn’s journal wasn’t as funny as mine. So serious!
Writing is personal. So many achingly talented writers keep their work to themselves. My mom is one example. Matthew is another, although he just started sharing again. And actually, his latest blog post is also about writing.
In the end, I’m glad I got to read some of her work. It was dark and disturbing, but it also showed great depth and knowledge of self that would surprise most people. A secret, private Marilyn. And I’m glad she got to experience that, even if she didn’t realize what a gift it was at the time.
It’s been almost 50 years since she died, and if we’re going to look through her diary, we should at least acknowledge what a rare privilege it is. We should tread lightly and respect her privacy, once and for all. We should recognize what a precious gift it is to be able to express ourselves, and honor that when reading the words of others.
If you want to read the full VF article (from November 2010), click here.