lives well lived

lee miller by man ray (1930)

I finished a book last night (Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline…I recommend it) and today did not yet reach a decision of what will be next to take its spot on my virtual bedside (of late I tend to read mostly ebooks which for some reason my eyes like better). I’m also in the midst of my second “Siri” book (last summer was that of Stieg, as in Larrson, this summer it’s Siri Hustvedt). My own writing seems to be enjoying a break from my tortuous editing of late, so the two wip’s remain tucked in the corner of my desktop. Hopefully they don’t get too comfy there as I do plan on dragging them out soon.

In the brief free time I had today to mind wander I perused my bookshelf, as I’d promised to do, to revisit the few books I’ve actually saved (I’ve been giving away books, en masse, for some time, and am left with just some favorites and those I mean to read). In doing so I came across a book called The Lives of Lee Miller, written by Miller’s son, Antony Penrose.

It’s a fascinating read, and includes many photographs taken by her. Indeed she was a beautiful and fascinating woman, a model for Vogue, a gifted and innovative photographer who captured everything from fashion to the concentration camps, counted among her lovers Man Ray and among her friends Picasso and Cocteau. She lived in many fabulous places (including Cairo, with her then husband, an Egyptian) and Paris, London and New York. She fell in and out of love, knew how to dress and cook and take photographs that live on for their art…

Yet the beauty, or the tragedy of the memoir, of the biography is that we find that its subject, in this case Lee Miller, was, as we all are, unavoidably human. This is not about her live, but her lives, as the title so eloquently makes clear..

Oh, amidst the glamor of Lee Miller’s life, many moments of which are documented here, there was also strife and tragedy: rape (as a child of 8), divorce, post-traumatic stress (from her time witnessing many of the atrocities in WW2), depression. Yet reading of these things does not diminish her, it makes her real to us, to the reader, and in making her real we can then empathize, relate her wild living to our own. In the end the relevancy of a life lived is timeless, and within it are reiterated the same themes: Love. Happiness. Tragedy.

Perhaps summer is the time for reflection, but it seems that of late the blogosphere, especially that which I’ve discovered via my online writing group, includes a myriad of posts which are intensely personal, heartfelt. There are confessions and self-questioning about the indiscretion of writing about events and times, relationships, love and conflict. They are colorful and ineffably beautiful, equally as sad and most often engender in me a great deal of thought about my own life, or lives lived and yet to.

I’ve always loved reading memoirs, autobiographies, biographies. In the case of memoir/autobiographies one always doubts a bit the veracity of the account, for it was or course written for publication. Biographies, however, often contain letters, snippets from diaries, windows into the inner worlds of the writers. As an adolescent I devoured the diaries of Anais Nin (as it seems many of my age and ilk did), knowing that they too had been crafted with the thought of exposure yet loving every aching word.

How amazing it is that the immediacy of the internet allows us to not only read about lives lived but to share in them in nearly real time. How seductive is the illusion of solitude within which one writes that it seems to coax from so many their innermost thoughts, confessions, with or without an awareness that their very exposure might change the course of their lives and those of whom they write.

There are blogs so personal they make me wince with embarassment, as though I were hiding under the bed or secretly taping words spoken, or photographing with a telephoto paparazzi lens that which I was not meant to hear, or see. Many move me, make me smile or wish I could cry, but as a whole they make me realize that people everywhere, are so very alike, although it seems it is women I find most often writing their inner tales.

As i write this, I believe I’ve decided which book to read next, and it will be the autobiography of none other than Jaycee Dugard. It’s a story that fascinates and repulses, yet seeing her in a clip talking about her experience left an indelible impression on me. I’ve read that her book contains many of her journal entries, and that it tells with unflinching eloquence how even in hell one can, with strength and will, carve out a life, a life well lived.

10 responses to “lives well lived

  1. OMG, please, if you do make the decision to read Jaycee’s book! don’t read it! get the audio version of her narrating her own words! it will shatter you. She allows you into her world like nothing else. If i ever have the chance to meet this incredible women, I would hug her! she is truly incredible.

    • Too late…already bought it, although haven’t started it yet. I’m not much for audio books, but in this case I can only imagine how powerful it must be to hear her telling her story in her own voice. Just the snippet I saw online from her ABC interview was incredible and humbling.

  2. Please don’t miss The Lotus Eaters. Its a story of woman photographer during the Vietnam war and reads with the power of an autobiography. I finished it almost a week ago…and still…am so moved by it I can’t pick up another book. Best book I have read in (honestly) years. Here’s my review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/184933140 The author’s insights are truly incredible.

  3. Wow…what a beautiful post. Yes, summer is a time to reflect and maybe rejuvenate. It seems to me that a growing number are all telling their stories with passion and a sense of urgency. It is as if we can’t contain them any longer. I can’t imagine listening to Jaycee’s audio version. I’m not much on audio books, but to hear her story while listening to her voice would be incredible. I feel like when my eyes finally cave into darkness I will have plenty of time to listen. Thanks for the beautiful post!!!

    • Gracias, Annie!
      So many voices, yes… although they all seem to be women, or most anyway. Is that because women are more apt to share their emotional lives or is it just that I don’t know any good man blogs?

  4. Very strong post. I was going to read Jaycee’s book, but after reading Christina’s comments I am tempted to listen to it. I like your line about hiding under the bed reading someone’s inner thoughts. As a writer I have stories i’d live to write about but realize a blogger creates a persona there is almost an expectation of who he/she is.. I find this a tad limiting, personally. I figured options are to create another blog (not enough time to do this and write stories for submission) ficitonalize some stuff, or don’t write about it. Not sure if this makes me happy or not. Anyho, I thought you made a good point. I am dropping by from Meg’s blog hop.

    • Yep, I started my blog anonymously (It still is, officially, as no where on it did I post my name, although others have!), because I believe anonymity, when used with good intention, can indeed be a form of freedom, something I appreciated way before the internet was even invented! I was the girl who dreamed of being the fly on the wall not the belle of the ball! :) I wonder sometimes if total anonymity is even possible anymore. I too find it limiting to write knowing that my words are or can be linked to me. It’s not that I’m ashamed of them, just that it changes the way I write.

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